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One family's pain inspires a message of hope

By Radiant Admin on 
Posted on March 1, 2017

One family's pain inspires a message of hope

“You are beautiful people. You are good people. As a family member, we can’t trust you. We don’t like the choices you are making, but we will always love you.”

Bob and Jeannie Brandt lovingly share this message with Rosary Hall detox patients as they desperately attempt to escape the powerful grip of opioid and heroin addiction. It’s the message that Bob and Jeannie wished they had known to deliver—or wish someone else could have delivered—to their grandson, Robby, during his four-year struggle to overcome addiction.

Tragically, Robby lost his battle five years ago at the age of 20, just days before he was to fulfill his long-held dream of serving in our nation’s military.

“When Robby—and our entire family—battled this disease, we didn’t know much about opioid or heroin addiction,” said Bob. “It wasn’t something people talked about. We didn’t know anyone else who had been through this tragedy, so we did not know where to turn or what to say to help.”

The Brandt family, in fact, did not even tell friends and family how Robby died out of fear of their reaction. How do you tell someone that your grandson died from a heroin overdose? With so little known about opioid addiction, there was a feeling that was not something that happened to good kids like Robby. It was not until six months after his death that the Brandts were sent a message from Robby to share his story as a way to help others suffering from the disease of opioid addiction.

In going through his room, Robby’s parents, Rob and Carla Brandt, came across their son’s plans to launch a foundation to help others. Robby wanted to protect other kids, and other families, from his suffering. It was then that the Brandt family formed the nonprofit Robby’s Voice to keep his spirit and dreams alive. The Brandt family has spoken to more than 80,000 students, parents, teachers, counselors, physicians, and law enforcement officers to raise awareness of the growing opioid epidemic, which last year claimed the lives of more than 600 in Northeast Ohio.

Their work through Robby’s Voice led Bob and Jeannie to Rosary Hall as volunteers twice a month to share their story with those in the beginning stages of their recovery. Their honesty about the pain they felt as grandparents—their daily challenges and range of emotions from love to anger to distrust—is intended to protect these young men and women from their family tragedy.

“When Bob and Jeannie come, they are the voices of the parents and grandparents who have tried over and over again to talk to these men and women about how their addiction is affecting others,” says Orlando Howard, Manager of Outpatient Treatment Services for Rosary Hall. “When they are in the throes of their illness and not focusing, these patients don’t have a chance to settle down to really listen to their own parents. In telling their story, Bob and Jeannie give patients the opportunity to see the pain in their eyes and to realize this is a family disease.”

As difficult as it is, Bob and Jeannie describe the harrowing day Robby went missing and was then, later, found dead by police from an overdose. Their story serves as a wake-up call to patients that their choices rip through the fabric of the entire family.  As a grandmother, Jeannie typically makes a point of sitting next to a young woman in the group, holding her hand as she tells her story, hoping to connect. Hoping to save one life.  Jeannie not only speaks from her heart, but from Robby’s, as she talks about the challenges for family members living with an addict.

“As a family member, we get furious. You become thieves. You lie to us,” Jeannie said. “We understand that there is a demon inside of you that has changed you totally. We want to take on your disease, but this is your battle.”

Most of all, the Brandts just want these patients to know that no matter what they have done, no matter the mistakes they have made, they are loved.

Bob and Jeannie encourage them to use the resources available as they struggle through recovery—to call a friend, to go to a meeting, to fight the opioid demon because their “life is worth it. Don’t give up, because we don’t give up on you.”

As lifelong Catholics, the Brandts also turn to their faith to handle their personal pain and to help those in recovery.  For every patient they meet, the Brandts provide two patron saint medals—one of St. Jude, to provide the strength and courage to handle the bumps in the road of recovery and, second, St. Anthony, to help those feeling lost and alone to find the person they once were.

“Prayer is to help you get through the rough spots,” Jeannie says. “Don’t be afraid to pray. Right now, you might not think you are deserving of prayer, but I pray for every person that walks through the doors of Rosary Hall.”

This year, on the day of the five-year anniversary of Robby’s death, the Brandts’ gift had an immediate, emotional impact on “Dan,” a Rosary Hall patient.

The week before entering the hospital, Dan walked the streets, knowing he needed help, but also looking to score the drugs his brain was telling him he needed. As he looked down, Dan saw something shiny on the sidewalk, bent down and picked it up.  It was a St. Anthony medal. Hearing the Brandts talk about prayers to St. Anthony, Dan knew it was a sign from God that he found that medal on the sidewalk that day. He believes that God intervened, leading him to St. Vincent and to the Brandts, so that he could find the person in himself he had lost to his addiction.

Those are the moments that make the difference for Bob and Jeannie. It is difficult to re-live their pain as they tell their story of the grandson they lost. It is agonizing to remember the isolation they felt as they struggled through an epidemic that, at the time, no one really knew existed.  However, each time they talk to a patient like Dan or receive a letter that says, “your story saved my life,” they know they are celebrating Robby’s life and giving him a voice to help save one person—and one family—from tragedy.

If you or a loved one are in need of help for addiction, call 216-363-2580. To learn more about addiction, watch The Addicted Brain educational video at: www.stvincentcharity.com/rosaryhall.


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