Doctor speaks out about daughter's heroin death
Mann Spitler III hopes something positive will come from death of Manda Spitler, 20
BY KEN KOSKY
Times Staff Writer
This story ran on nwitimes.com on Sunday, October 26, 2003 12:07 AM CDT
VALPARAISO -- Valparaiso physician Mann Spitler III made an auditorium full of high school students turn eerily silent and somber as he spoke about the day he found his 20-year-old daughter dead of a heroin overdose in the bathroom of their home.
"I opened the door and I found her submerged in the bathtub, dead," he told the students.
"There was a syringe floating in the water next to her."
Spitler's speech to 800 students at Hobart High School was his first in front of students since losing his daughter, Manda, nineteen months ago. After his powerful talk earlier this month, several students asked questions or stopped to thank him. Spitler said he's willing to do talks wherever he's wanted, wherever he has a chance to steer even one young person away from drugs.
"It makes me feel I'm actually doing something and making Manda's death have some kind of purpose and meaning. There's no way I couldn't do things like this," Spitler said.
"I never thought Manda would become the poster child of heroin addiction, but I guess she has."
Spitler also spoke to younger students who gathered recently for the Porter County Red Ribbon anti-drug kickoff. In addition to speaking out, Spitler and his wife, Phyllis, have also become active with the Community Action Drug Coalition, a group working to tackle the drug problem by, among other things, increasing the treatment options.
Porter County Sheriff David Reynolds said he admires Spitler for sharing his story. He said Spitler and his wife will deserve a lot of the credit once the area gets a long-term treatment center to provide second chances to people caught up in drugs.
"They have turned a horrific situation that no one should have to go through and they're trying to make something positive out of it, and they have," Reynolds said.
Spitler said he spoke with Manda before her death and learned how young people don't realize they can become addicted the first time they inject heroin. The addicts find they need the drug just to feel normal, just to avoid being violently ill.
He said the danger is that young people in a peer group might be pressured to try heroin, only to become addicted on the spot. In his talk to the Hobart students, Spitler asked them to think the next time they face a "moment of truth" and can choose the right path or wrong path.
"Be independent thinkers," he said.
During his presentation to the students, Spitler played the tape of the 911 call he made after discovering Manda in the bathtub. He only found the strength to listen to the tape for the first time five days earlier. Nineteen months after losing his daughter, the pain is still there.
"The sharpest edge is dulled a bit. The emptiness, frustration and horror of it is as bad as it was in the beginning," Spitler said.
"We don't cry as much, but there are times, usually when I'm home alone, I will hear something or think about something and I'm back to square one ... There's still disbelief this has happened."
In addition to reaching out to young people, Spitler would also like to see schools review their drug prevention programs, having drug counselors offer advice. He would also like to see treatment options increase and would like to see classes offered to tell parents what to look for in an addict and what to do with an addict.
"I had no idea how powerful the grip of the beast was," he said.
"I was ignorant and stupid about how much help (Manda) needed."
The Community Action Drug Coalition hopes to raise money to combat the drug problem by hosting a benefit walk in the spring. The coalition also accepts donations. Anyone interested in contributing can send a check, made out to the coalition, to Dr.Spitler at 3104 Churchview Drive, Valparaiso, IN 46383.
Ken Kosky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (219) 462-5151, ext. 35