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In son's name, Mount Pleasant mom vows to help others fight back from heroin addiction

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Experts call it an epidemic, a crisis, but a Mount Pleasant mother say the use of heroin running rampant in Lowcountry communities is a heartbreaking truth.

Parents are burying their children at an alarming rate. One of those parents is Nanci Steadman-Shipman, whose 19-year-old son died just three months ago of a heroin overdose.

Shipman refused to be silenced. Her voice and her resolve make her this month's Jefferson Awards recipient for her service to her family and the community she loves.

It's not so much a shrine but a daily reminder that even the heart of a Warrior can be broken.

"It's done with a razor. He has the arrow and lion for strength and bravery in his heart, and Creighton and his lacrosse stick -- it's just beautiful," Shipman said.

Her son Creighton was the oldest of four, the born leader of the Shipman pack.

"He was a fabulous brother, loved his sister and brother more than everything," she said. "He loved life; he was always outdoors, always exercising, always playing with kids. He didn't meet a stranger. He had that gift of making people feel invited."

The invitation to play college lacrosse followed an outstanding high school career. But the summer brought change, and the child-like playfulness started to slip away.

"Brass is super shiny. I feel like that's how we are, we have that twinkle, zest, whatever personality," Shipman said. "That summer, it was still bright but not as bright."

Creighton's inner battle started to simmer his freshman year at Mars Hill.

"We got his grades and he did not do fine. He failed everything but one," Shipman said.

During the spring semester he walked off the lacrosse team. And there was another change -- his appearance.

"He was very skinny, hollow eyes, exhausted looking," she said.

And his behavior became more erratic. There were arguments and outbursts that had never been there before. His first summer home from college would be short-lived.

"This is not OK. You know it's not okay and the choice is gone. You need to get help. I told him he had to leave and that was the hardest thing I've ever done in that point of my life," she said.

The shine was now nearly gone. At the age of 19, a secret had turned her child's world upside down.

"Until someone is ready to own the walk they're walking, they're not going to tell you no matter if they love you more than anything, they're not going to own it until they are ready," Shipman said.

A month out of the house and Creighton was ready. He called for help and checked into a rehab center in Georgia.

"He was there a month and I got a letter. He said it was important to be honest," Shipman said, reading from the letter. "'I've been doing heroin for about seven months starting in November, shooting for around three months.' I was not expecting it. I was expecting anything but that. Heroin is a word hard to say, hard to read."

The road home would only get harder. Creighton's final week in rehab saw a change in his behavior and his plans.

Shipman did exactly what she was supposed to do as a parent.

"Telling him to move out was nothing compared to telling him I couldn't bring him home, and that's all I wanted to do was bring him home -- but that's not supporting his life and family in recovery," she said.

Once again, Creighton turned and walked away, left rehab. A short time later, just five miles from home, Shipman saw him at a coffee shop on her way to Charleston.

"He was like, 'Hey mom.' He was so happy," she said.

She pleaded with him to go back to the recovery house and promised to help him get help.

"We hugged each other and I told him I loved him very, very much, kissed him on the cheek and he held me tighter. And he said I love you too very much," she said. "I had to leave and walk back to my car and that was the last time I saw him alive."

Creighton Shipman died two days later in Columbia on July 17. He was 125 miles from the rehab center. He had overdosed on heroin.

"This is something when we were around Creighton's bed my daughter looked at me and said, 'We have to do something about this,'" Shipman said. "We made this promise as a family and everything we've done as a family -- and that's the promise we made to Creighton."

This victim of heroin is not faceless. he's a son and a brother, a grandson. Now his mother wants to put a face on this disease for other families.

"I am one of many, many, many. Creighton, my son that I love, Creighton represents everyone lost to this disease that's battling this disease, all of these family members who needed someone to say your not alone," Shipman said.

The Shipmans are not alone.

Creighton's jersey number, 22, was filled by friends and family on the field where he excelled. Now red Solo cups serve as a reminder three months after his death.

"When I got that letter, I felt lonely, felt embarrassed and ashamed, and I was scared to death. When I got back, I realized we are strong and we are loved," Shipman said.

She's made a promise to her son that she will not rest until she can help others save a life. It's a gift to that once playful child.

For her efforts, already speaking at events and talking to families who have also lost loved ones, ABC News 4 proudly recognizes Shipman as this month's Jefferson Awards recipient.

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