By Adam Hocking
This is the final installment in a three part series regarding the rising pervasiveness of heroin and prescription opiate abuse in the Marshfield community.
For this week’s article, Hub City Times spoke with Jim and Lisa Hoese, whose son Mark died from a heroin overdose.
MARSHFIELD — Everybody liked Mark Hoese. He was a joker, quick with a smile, and smart. He was a good athlete who came from a good family. His father Jim is an Associate Principal at Marshfield Middle School, his mother Lisa a former nurse, and his two younger siblings, David and Kristen, loved him very much.
However, heroin does not discriminate. It is not just a drug for the poor. It is not just a city drug. Heroin cuts across all demographics of class, race, gender, and personality types. Mark Hoese lost his life to a battle with heroin. If it could happen to him, a young man from Marshfield with a loving and supportive family, it could happen to anyone.
The beginning stages
Jim and Lisa first started to think that Mark was experimenting with drugs his senior year of high school.
“I would say senior year we kind of figured he was partying once in a while—alcohol, maybe smoking marijuana—really no proof, but of course we would talk about it with him,” Lisa said. “You want to trust your child, and we did our best to teach him.”
Lisa added that their family has a history of addiction. Mark’s partying was something that she and Jim were wary of, but at the time it seemed more like typical experimentation than the beginnings of a major drug problem.
Mark breezed through high school. He graduated, and after a year at UW-Marshfield/Wood County he left to attend the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire.
His first year at Eau Claire, his sophomore year overall, was the first time Jim and Lisa started to think something more serious might be taking place.
“Sophomore year in college is when we had an inkling. He just started to be super irresponsible. He’d be calling us for money, and then we find out he had parking tickets…and not taking care of (them),” Lisa said.
Other small things started to happen. Mark did not return his rental books from the university. He visited Marshfield less often. Jim and Lisa would call him and always get his voicemail without a call back.
Jim and Lisa pointed to two factors that could potentially have influenced the development of Mark’s heroin addiction.
The first was that high school was easy for Mark, but once he got to college the challenge and the stress of school increased significantly.
The second factor was that Mark injured his neck when he was moving a large television. Mark was prescribed pain medication for the injury, and when the pills ran out he started purchasing them off the street. When pills became too expensive, heroin became a viable alternative.
A deepening addiction
Mark moved home to Marshfield at the end of 2008. He had lost his job and needed a support system. Jim and Lisa knew there was something different about Mark as soon as he moved back in to their home.
“He wasn’t following the house rules. It’s not like he didn’t want to, it’s just you’d find food in his room and just messes and the countertops smeared with peanut butter like he’d get up in the middle of the night, and I don’t think he even knew that he was doing that,” Lisa said.
When Jim or Lisa would confront him about his behavior, Lisa said, “He’d look at you like, ‘What are you talking about? I didn’t do that.’”
One weekend Jim and Mark took a trip together to Milwaukee, and upon returning home Mark finally told his parents what was happening.
“He told me, ‘Mom, I’m addicted to opiates, and I’ve been injecting heroin,’” Lisa said. Jim and Lisa told Mark they loved him and that they were going to get him help. Their parental instincts to help their child came before the fear that they felt upon hearing Mark’s admission.
“It was like, ‘What do we do to get him help?’” Jim said.
The rehabilitation process
After Mark admitted to Jim and Lisa that he had a problem, he wanted to enter a rehabilitation program immediately. He wanted to get better.
Jim and Lisa found a four week program in Chippewa Falls, but within two weeks of finishing and returning home, Mark relapsed.
Jim and Lisa then decided to try a new facility, a treatment center in Minnesota. Immediately they perceived that Mark was unhappy there. He did not fare any better in Minnesota than he had in Chippewa Falls.
Mark again relapsed shortly after returning to Marshfield.
Jim and Lisa were struggling to find answers and help for their son, and they were desperate to get Mark the treatment he needed. They set about finding another program, one that would be a better fit for Mark. They found a promising program in Arizona and sent Mark there. Finally, Mark appeared to have found a center that fit his needs and could help him.
After showing progress, the program started phasing Mark back into regular life through a “step-down” process where he was still supervised but had to get a job and take on responsibilities. Next, he was moved off the site of the treatment center and eventually released entirely.
Mark then came back to Marshfield once more. He started looking for a job and within weeks had lined up multiple interviews. Mark landed a position in Pewaukee, Wis., with Verizon. Things seemed to be turning for the better.
“The last week before he left (for Pewaukee), I’m so glad we had that time together. We went shopping together. I helped him get pants and shirts and ties and shoes. You know I wanted him to feel good about himself too,” Lisa said.
February 13, 2012
Mark was set to move into his new apartment in Pewaukee and begin his new job. Over his last few weeks in Marshfield he had worked hard to get himself organized for the start of a new life. However, the last night in town, Jim and Lisa were suspicious that he may have used heroin when out with friends.
Still, the morning of Feb. 13, 2012 Mark sent Lisa a picture of himself with his business attire on showing he was ready for his first day of work. He would be attending orientation for his new job all day, and his apartment would open up for him that evening. Jim would drive to Pewaukee after work with a U-Haul truck and help move Mark into the apartment.
Jim texted Mark in the afternoon when he was leaving Marshfield and everything seemed fine. However when Jim got to Mark’s apartment in Pewaukee and knocked on the door, there was no answer. Jim called Mark’s cell phone, and he could hear it ringing inside of the apartment.
The door was locked, so Jim called the building manager to come let him into the apartment. Lisa, who was back in Marshfield, called Jim for updates.
When Jim was able to get into the apartment, he told Lisa over the phone, “It’s not good. It’s not good. They’re working on him.”
Mark was on the bathroom floor, unconscious. He had overdosed on heroin.
Jim found him and immediately started to administer CPR as the building manager called an ambulance. The rescue squad arrived and attempted to revive Mark.
Lisa was left helpless on the other end of the phone.
“I’m listening to all this on the phone, and I’m screaming. I know I was screaming, ‘Mark, Mark, wake up.’ I told Jim, ‘Put the phone next to his ear.’”
Mark was transported to a nearby hospital without Jim or Lisa knowing whether their son would live.
“I thought he was dead even when I was working on him,” Jim said.
Lisa called the hospital, but they would not tell her Mark’s status. When Jim arrived at the hospital to get further information he was told that Mark had died. He called Lisa and said, “He’s gone.”
“I fell to the floor, and my daughter was home, and we’re just sobbing. I don’t even know what goes through you. It’s like, ‘Oh my God, he’s really gone. This really did this to our family. My son, I’m never going to see him again,’ and I’m thinking of all the things I should have done,” Lisa said.
“You start second guessing yourself,” Jim added.
Jim and Lisa’s message
It was not easy for Jim and Lisa to talk about losing their son. It is a conversation every parent would dread. Yet, this is the real cost of heroin use and a potential reality for many families that deal with addiction.
Jim and Lisa want to spread the message that Mark’s tragedy is proof that this could happen to anyone of any socio-economic standing in any walk of life.
“It’s not just parents that aren’t watching their kids. It’s not just poor people or street people,” Lisa said.
“No one ever says, ‘I want to be an addict or alcoholic,’” Jim added.
Mark felt embarrassed, humiliated even, that he had this problem. It is not something he chose willingly. Heroin took over his life.
“You’ll never understand. The cravings never go away,” Mark would tell his parents.
When Lisa first saw Mark’s body after he died, she kissed him and said, “Your struggle is over. You can rest now.”
“I just wanted to die to go check on him. I felt that was the only way I could make sure he was OK,” Lisa said.
Jim and Lisa hope that Mark’s death can help change the stigma that heroin addiction only happens to a specific kind of person or family. They also hope that their story can help increase awareness and treatment options for people in similar situations as Mark. Marshfield does not currently have an in-patient drug and alcohol residential treatment center.
Jim and Lisa want to make it clear that heroin is not something with which people can simply experiment.
“This is not just something you can try. There are so many people that, you try it and you are hooked,” Lisa said.
They hope now Mark is at peace. Where he is now must be better than what he was going through in life. Lisa said she hopes Mark is with her father now.
“I think he’s at peace. I think he’s having fun. My dad had the same sense of humor as Mark. So I just picture them in heaven having a good old time.”