Archive for Sunday, December 28, 2008

After heart attack, homelessness, substance abuse, man back on track

It has been almost five months since Troy Leonard has slept in the Salvation Army’s sleeping bunks. After bouts with homelessness and alcohol and drug abuse, Leonard credits the Salvation Army for helping him get his life back together.

It has been almost five months since Troy Leonard has slept in the Salvation Army’s sleeping bunks. After bouts with homelessness and alcohol and drug abuse, Leonard credits the Salvation Army for helping him get his life back together.

December 28, 2008

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Troy Leonard was waiting to die.

On a ship in the Gulf of Mexico — where he slung hammers and lugged wrenches as a support worker for offshore oil drillers — he started having trouble breathing. Then he started having chest pains.

He was having a heart attack. And to top it off, he was 200 miles off the coast of Texas.

A Coast Guard helicopter flew him to a hospital in Port Arthur, Texas. There, doctors worked on him. As is the case with patients undergoing such emergency procedures, he was semi-conscious. Conscious enough to hear the words that would echo in his head for years to come.

“I specifically remember listening to the heart surgeon say, ‘I don’t know how this guy is alive,’” Leonard said.

Leonard was wondering that, too. He was 45 years old, and he knew he was paying the price for a lifetime of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and heroin.

“I was your stereotypical sailor,” Leonard said. “I would hit the beach and start popping tops. I always just lived in the moment. I didn’t have any savings, any retirement.”

But to say that Leonard — who was making upwards of $50,000 a year, and as a sailor had his room and board paid for — didn’t have any plan in life, wouldn’t quite be accurate. The plan just didn’t play out like he thought.

“I thought I would just work until the day I died,” Leonard said. “I didn’t know I would have some major medical event without dying. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t die.”

Eight months later — August 2007 — he still wasn’t dead, but Leonard thought he had perhaps arrived in purgatory.

He was about to spend his first night in the Lawrence Salvation Army homeless shelter.

“I’ve walked into lots of situations in life that were uneasy or didn’t feel right,” Leonard said. “But this was just another world. It was like walking on a different planet.”

It would be his world for the next 11 months.

•••

Carol Taylor remembers the first time she met Troy Leonard. Like she does with many, she remembers more about what he didn’t have than what he did.

“He had lost his belief in himself,” said Taylor, who is the case manager for the Salvation Army’s Project Able program. “Troy had a lot of skills and abilities, but he no longer believed he did.”

If there’s a single commonality about the people who walk into the Salvation Army seeking help — and maybe there isn’t — this loss of self-belief may be it.

People who walk into the shelter need lots of things. A roof, a job, a hot meal, a warm blanket. The list can go on and on. What they usually get first, though, is a hope surrogate.

“They’re at a point they never thought they would be,” Taylor said of first-time homeless shelter guests. “The person working with them has to believe that change is possible for them because they’re the one telling them that they can get this back. You have to hold on to the hope until they believe they can have it again.”

Along the way, Taylor will give more than hope. Usually, she gives a list. A concrete, doable list. Helping them achieve a goal early is important.

Just get through this list.

“They’re in a place where they have to focus on just getting through this day, just getting through this week,” Taylor said. “Anything longer than just a couple of days is going to be overload for them.”

The list is usually full of addresses and directions to social service agencies like Health Care Access or the Lawrence Workforce Center. Oftentimes the list comes with bus passes. Sometimes Taylor will make the trip too, but not often. She said the Salvation Army program stresses expectations.

“It comes back to not only do I believe you can make change, I have the expectations that you have the skills to do that,” Taylor said. “If you come in and say you need housing, and I do all the paperwork and tell you not to worry about it, I haven’t taught you the skills you need the next time you’re faced with a difficult situation.”

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

In the case of Troy Leonard, Taylor had undertaken what sounds like the most unusual of tasks: she was teaching a sailor how to fish.

•••

Leonard remembers the first time he met Taylor. He was tired. It was the morning after his first night at the shelter.

“I didn’t sleep at all that night,” Leonard said.

You would think it would be all the weight-of-the-world type of worries that would keep a man up at a homeless shelter. But Leonard said finding a way to overcome those major disappointments — another day of job rejections, another day of waiting to hear about an apartment — is easier than overcoming the little things. The constant smell of unbathed men, the incessant snoring of the man on the top bunk and — Leonard’s personal peeve — the daily routine of being kicked out of the shelter at 7:45 a.m. every day of the week. A life of never sleeping in.

“Every morning, you would wake up and ask yourself how you could get in this situation,” Leonard said.

For Leonard, he got in his Lawrence situation via De Soto. After Port Arthur, Texas, he stayed with his brother and sister-in-law and their triplets in Lenexa for about four months while he recovered from the heart surgery that required five stents be placed in clogged arteries.

He then got an apartment in De Soto where he worked at a factory. But that job then disappeared, as did any money he had. He talked to a social worker in De Soto, who gave him a week’s worth of rent. But she told him the small town didn’t have the services he needed. The two closest places that did were the bottoms of Kansas City and Lawrence.

The choice was not hard, although the trip was a bit tiring. Leonard can tell you how many folks will pick up a homeless hitchhiker between De Soto and Lawrence: none. He walked to the front door of the Salvation Army.

Eleven months later, he walked out the same door, headed to a Lawrence apartment that he had found through a connection he made at church. Now, he speaks a gospel-like message.

“If you will do your part, they will take you by the hand and literally give you everything you need to get you back to where you want to be,” Leonard said. “But you have to do your part.”

•••

Leonard did his part. Today, he’s dressed just like what he is — a working man. Blue scrubs are partially covered by an insulated flannel shirt. Near one side is the working man’s daily drug — 44 ounces of iced cola. On the other side is a John Deere cap that he takes off during conversation.

For eight months, he’s been employed as a certified nurse’s aide at a local nursing home. He got the education for the job through a state vocational rehabilitation program. The government program provided him free tuition, a car to get to class and work, and enough money to cover the first month’s worth of auto insurance.

He’s still taking classes through Neosho County Community College. He plans to complete his Licensed Practical Nursing training in 18 months.

So Leonard did his part, but he admits that he didn’t always. He remembers having a minimum-wage job while at the shelter. He would make a little money and rent a cheap hotel room so he could drink, something the Salvation Army as a strict dry shelter doesn’t tolerate. His drinking and drug use also caused him to have a run-in with the law.

“They were really the ones that told me I had to quit, and then I realized I couldn’t,” Leonard said.

Leonard has now been sober for a year, he said.

Leonard brings the failures up because he knows there are people who believe the homeless don’t do enough to help themselves. And he admits he’s seen “plenty” of bus passes and food stamps sold for booze.

But just as quickly, Leonard adds a refrain that floats through homeless shelters everywhere like hymnal music fills Sunday churches.

“I would just tell the people who are driving down Mass. or the business owners who are looking at panhandlers,” Leonard said, “don’t think you couldn’t be there in a heartbeat.”

These days, though, Leonard’s main message is more upbeat. Now that he’s out of the shelter, he wants others to know it is possible. He tells people to not let their fears be brick walls. When asked, he tells people about his renewed faith in God, and — above all — he tells people to do their part.

Taylor, who says she has the best job in the world, says Leonard is still doing his part.

“We’ve had an impact on Troy, but he’s going to pass that along,” Taylor said. “That’s how it works.

“We believe in one change at a time.”

Comments

jway 6 years, 4 months ago

He’s right, but for the grace of God there goes all of us!One thing though, “He was 45 years old, and he knew he was paying the price for a lifetime of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and heroine”, marijuana doesn’t cause heart disease, brain damage, emphysema, cancer or death. Whatever he was paying the price for it certainly wasn’t for consuming marijuana. And “heroin” is spelled without an ‘e’.

christy kennedy 6 years, 4 months ago

Best of luck from here on, Mr. Leonard. Best wishes and big thanks to Ms. Taylor and everyone else who helps the homeless. And thanks, Mr. Lawhorn, for a very nicely and thoughtfully-written article.

Sharon Aikins 6 years, 4 months ago

Actually, jway, the drug is spelled with no "e." With the "e" it becomes a female admired and emulated for her achievements and qualities. Maybe marajuana affects the ability to spell? But that's irrelevant. The point here is an article of hope and someone who was able to turn his life around, even after age 45. A lot of people his age wouldn't find the motivation, especially that to get off the drugs and booze, even with help. We have to applaud this man's efforts on his own behalf and those of people like Ms. Taylor.

bearded_gnome 6 years, 4 months ago

consider the huge difference between the Salvation Army and the "open shelter."Taylor, who says she has the best job in the world, says Leonard is still doing his part.congratulations Troy Leonard! I hope you find satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment in your work. I hope its all up from here for you, and keep making the right choices every day.

greenvera 6 years, 4 months ago

its always wonderful to see someone rising out of the cloud that surrounds them. congratulations! life is always worth living even if it seems that all is lost. and life definintely gets better after you lift that cloud...remember in the words of last lecture writer randy pausch...if you lead your life the right way, karma will take care of itself...and its never too late to start.redmoonrising...re-read jway's comment. he was on the same page as you. maybe there is something that effects your ability to comprehend. before you attack someone else make sure you get your facts straight...

Steve Jacob 6 years, 4 months ago

I just get the feeling Salvation Army gives people the "tough love" to get your life back in order. The "open" shelter does not. Now I am sure in comes in handy when the Salvation Army is full, but if you can't stay sober for one day, do you deserve a place to stay? Show up drunk to work for one day and you are out, why not a homeless shelter?

dipweed 6 years, 4 months ago

"....lifetime of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and heroine."Heroine?? What is that....a female hero?

Haiku_Cuckoo 6 years, 4 months ago

"marijuana doesn’t cause heart disease, brain damage, emphysema, cancer or death."Smoking no longer causes cancer?Interesting.

Clickker 6 years, 4 months ago

"marijuana doesn’t cause ................, emphysema, cancer or ......."well, not if you chew it..but if you smoke it, it sure as hell does. Check the latest AMA, or just check your common sense. Adding smoke, or any carcinogen to the lungs can contribute to these things vs. not doing it at all.

Sigmund 6 years, 4 months ago

First of all best of luck to Troy Leonard. I mean that sincerely.However there are a few things that were too briefly mentioned like, "He was 45 years old, and he knew he was paying the price for a lifetime of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and heroine." If Mr. Leonard understands the cause of his current situation, why can't Lawrence liberals? Drugs, the victimless crime unless you count the user themselves and the resources a compassionate society spends on medical care, training, and support. How many homeless are also victims of this victimless crime?Or how about, "The government program provided him free tuition, a car to get to class and work, and enough money to cover the first month’s worth of auto insurance." Sweet! Lawrence just finishes raising sales taxes to the highest in the State of Kansas to fund the empTy and even the homeless get free cars! All this at a time when the geniuses on the City Commission are just now realizing Lawrence might just have some budget problems. I love Lawrence, you all are just so entertaining. Really you are a never ending source of much needed laughter!Finally Mr. Leonard says, “I would just tell the people who are driving down Mass. or the business owners who are looking at panhandlers, don’t think you couldn’t be there in a heartbeat.” True enough, but tell me how much more likely it is for drug users. Instead of just counting the homeless why not add a census question about why they are homeless? Lawrence's might use the data to examine ifthe decriminalization of pot is helping or hurting the homeless, or if Lawrence's high homeless population is related to it's liberal and progressive tolerance of drug and alcohol abuse.BTW, is Chad Lawhorn the only person at the World Company that can write an article, or is he the only one that has the accepted progressive political views?

alm77 6 years, 4 months ago

b_g and srj, but the open shelter does keep dead bodies off the streets... just because someone is addicted doesn't mean they deserve to freeze to death at night. And having volunteered at the the "open" shelter, I've heard the success stories from there, as well. Doesn't matter how many lazy bums there are, if all those resources were spent just to save one life, it's worth it.

FMT6488 6 years, 4 months ago

Homeless people get free education, a car, AND one months' car insurance??? I work full time at lees than $10/hr., have had cancer, surgery, and chemotherapy. I now have so many medical bills that just buying food (other than ramen noodles) is something to celebrate. And thats' WITH health insurance! Where's my free car and education? I had a car, but I had to sell it because I couldn't afford to pay for the insurance, and without proof of insurance, my landlord will not allow residents to keep their cars in the apartment's parking lot. With my medical bills eating all of my money, it was easier to sell the car than to attempt to find somewhere safe to store it. I have attempted to improve my education (and my career) by going back to school, but they will not give me any financial aid (age and financial problems 15 yrs. in the past)- and thanks to having the glorious K.U. in the same city, there are no tech schools here. With my current level of debit, it will take me at least 3 yrs. to get in the black - provided the cancer doesn't return or I have some other medical condition occur.To solve all my problems all I need to do is: become homeless! Let everyone else pay my bills buy my car and pay for my education. Why should I be responsible for doing so?? This is a rant about the state of the social/ governmental system I (and most likely everyone reading this) live in - NOT a rant about the homeless.

eotw33 6 years, 4 months ago

Pot Smoking Not Linked to Lung CancerStudy Shows No Increased Risk for Even the Heaviest Marijuana SmokersBy Salynn BoylesWebMD Health NewsReviewed by Louise Chang, MDMay 23, 2006 -- People who smoke marijuana do not appear to be at increased risk for developing lung cancerlung cancer, new research suggests.While a clear increase in cancercancer risk was seen among cigarette smokers in the study, no such association was seen for regular cannabis users.Even very heavy, long-term marijuana users who had smoked more than 22,000 joints over a lifetime seemed to have no greater risk than infrequent marijuana users or nonusers.The findings surprised the study’s researchers, who expected to see an increase in cancer among people who smoked marijuana regularly in their youth.“We know that there are as many or more carcinogens and co-carcinogens in marijuana smoke as in cigarettes,” researcher Donald Tashkin, MD, of UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine tells WebMD. “But we did not find any evidence for an increase in cancer risk for even heavy marijuana smoking.” Carcinogens are substances that cause cancer. Tashkin presented the findings today at The American Thoracic Society’s 102nd International Conference, held in San Diego.Boomers Reaching Cancer AgeThe study population was limited to people who were younger than 60 because people older than that would probably not have used marijuana in their teens and early adult years.“People who may have smoked marijuana in their youth are just now getting to the age when cancers are being seen,” Tashkin says.A total of 611 lung cancer patients living in Los Angeles County, and 601 patients with other cancers of the head and neck were compared with 1,040 people without cancer matched for age, sex, and the neighborhood they lived in.All the participants were asked about lifetime use of marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol, as well as other drugs, their diets, occupation, family history of lung cancer, and socioeconomic status.The heaviest marijuana users in the study had smoked more than 22,000 joints, while moderately heavy smokers had smoked between 11,000 and 22,000 joints.While two-pack-a-day or more cigarette smokers were found to have a 20-fold increase in lung cancer risk, no elevation in risk was seen for even the very heaviest marijuana smokers.The more tobacco a person smoked, the greater their risk of developing lung cancer and other cancers of the head and neck. But people who smoked more marijuana were not at increased risk compared with people who smoked less and people who didn’t smoke at all.

XEPCT 6 years, 4 months ago

It could be worse FMT; you could live in C.A.R.

Sigmund 6 years, 4 months ago

eotw33 (Anonymous) says… "Pot Smoking Not Linked to Lung Cancer. Study Shows No Increased Risk for Even the Heaviest Marijuana Smokers"You forgot the last part of the article (purely accidental I am sure) ..."While there was a suggestion in the newly reported study that smoking marijuana is weakly protective against lung cancer, Tashkin says the very weak association was probably due to chance.""Cancer risk among cigarette smokers was not influenced by whether or not they also smoked marijuana."“We saw no interaction between marijuana and tobacco, and we certainly would not recommend that people smoke marijuana to protect themselves against cancer,” he says.”http://www.webmd.com/lung-cancer/news/20060523/pot-smoking-not-linked-to-lung-cancer?page=2Also it should be noted that this one study it is by no means definitive, earlier studies have showed an opposite results. The researchers of the study also note that a lung cancer risk associated with smoking marijuana may be revealed as the baby boomers age.Even if this one study supports your point of view it says nothing about the impact to heart disease which was the focus of this article. Pot contains chemicals that are harmful to the health. When marijuana is inhaled, it is usually held in for times longer than cigarette smoke, allowing tar and other chemicals to be absorbed into the lungs. Marijuana users face the same respiratory problems as regular smokers, such as bronchitis, wheezing, and general difficulty in breathing.But take another bong hit and convince yourself it is harmless.

Gina Bailey-Carbaugh 6 years, 4 months ago

Congrats, Troy!!I was Troy's CNA instructor through Neosho County Community College. He is a delightful, intelligent person. He fully understands that he has been given another chance. He is humble enough to not taken this second chance for granted, nor does he plan to take govenrment assist for granted. Government assist/vocational rehab is exactly for the purpose of aiding an individual to get an education, or training, and to get off government assist. In the long run, the more homeless or others who get jobs and become good citizens, the better for all of us. Best wishes to you, Troy, I know you can do it!!

Godot 6 years, 4 months ago

Good for Leonard; I'm glad to see he has turned his life around. However, this part of the story irks me:"He talked to a social worker in De Soto, who gave him a week’s worth of rent. But she told him the small town didn’t have the services he needed. The two closest places that did were the bottoms of Kansas City and Lawrence.The choice was not hard, although the trip was a bit tiring. Leonard can tell you how many folks will pick up a homeless hitchhiker between De Soto and Lawrence: none. He walked to the front door of the Salvation Army."

Leslie Swearingen 6 years, 4 months ago

Godot, think I understand why that irks you. It is fourteen miles between De Soto and Lawrence which is a fair distance to walk. How many people who saw him on the side of the road thought, oh, homeless, or else he wouldn't be walking, right? Leonard is rather big and burly and if he was wearing that expression he might have scared people.But, I am glad that he is out and on his own. After all we are supposed to adopt shelter animals are we not? Do the humans at the people shelters deserve any less consideration?

Nikki May 6 years, 4 months ago

I don't know why his family didn't at least give him a ride, or his social worker. However, I'm thinking on the flip side is "Why was Lawrence the easier choice?" might be godot's point of contention. Of course, that might be transference, since I was kinda wondering that.

CarterFaucheaux 6 years, 4 months ago

jesus f-ing christ people, why does this always turn into a pissing contest. Congratulations to Troy for getting his life straight.

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