Family hopes 23-year-old’s fatal overdose will raise awareness, save lives
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
The 23-year-old Kennett Square woman had an abundance of assets: beauty, intelligence, and compassion. What she lacked, her grieving family learned, was the ability to fight an insidious addiction.
Andy Rumford, 55, said he had been working from home the afternoon of March 12 when he decided to check on his daughter, Kacie Erin Rumford. “Her lips were blue. I tried CPR, but it was too late,” he said. His daughter had died of a heroin overdose, Rumford said. “The tears don’t stop, and they never will,” he said.
But Rumford, his wife, Donna, and their 25-year-old son Alex, are determined to turn the tragedy into a crusade to help others avoid a similar heartbreak. “It’s what Kacie would have wanted,” Andy Rumford said.
Kacie’s fate and that of other local youths may come into even tighter focus, Thursday, when Unionville-Chadds Ford School District officials reveal survey results from the Pennsylvania Youth Survey of Unionville sixth-, eighth-,10th-, and 12th-grade students — specifically looking at drug and alcohol abuse and other risky behaviors. The program, which will be held in the C.F. Patton Middle School auditorium, starts at 7 p.m.
Following the presentation, sponsored by FOCUS and the Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Foundation, there will be roundtable discussions.
The program is free, but space is limited. To reserve a seat, register at http://www.riskybusinessucf.eventbrite.com.
Further discussion will happen at a meeting, more focused on Kacie and her story, May 4 at the Longwood Fire Company at 10 a.m. to raise awareness, Rumford said. He said government, school, and law-enforcement leaders, businesspeople, and residents will gather for a brainstorming session. “What I hope is that we can come up with some sort of action to effect change immediately and make the community safer,” he said.
He said his family saw signs that Kacie had a drug problem several years ago and got her treatment and counseling. Although she took some college courses and had some jobs, nothing seemed to hold her interest, and the former Kennett High athlete and cheerleader appeared ”a bit lost,” Rumford said. But she convinced them that her drug abuse was history. “You want to believe your child, and you end up believing the lies,” Rumford said. “You want to believe your child, but you can’t. You need to take action immediately before you find them dead.”
Rumford said he has learned painful lessons about the secrets his daughter was harboring. He has also learned more about heroin abuse. For example, psychological trauma can make people more vulnerable to addiction, he said. For Kacie, that upheaval occurred when she was 9 and was forced prematurely into a caregiving role after her mother suffered a massive stroke, Rumford said.
His daughter’s emotional scars may have been exacerbated by how easily – and inexpensively – heroin can be obtained in the area, Rumford said. Oxycontin or Percocet may run $25 to $30 while a bag of heroin sells for $7, he said, adding that now that he’s better educated about the drug, he routinely sees used packaging in Kennett and Unionville parking lots.
Rumford believes that sharing that education with the public will save lives and will honor his daughter’s commitment to helping others. “A heroin epidemic exists now in Kennett Square and all over this country,” he said “This drug will kill again and very soon. Heroin does not discriminate; it affects the wealthy, the poor, the intelligent, and all those in between.”
In the past month, Rumford has distributed flyers to more than 70 Kennett businesses and has heard from over 200 people – 95 percent of whom live in Chester or Delaware County. He said they all have similar horror stories about the dangers of heroin. He also found a letter his daughter wrote more than a decade ago.
In July 2001, after reading articles about stem-cell research, 12-year-old Kacie Rumford wrote a letter to President Bush, urging him to support work that might “help people like my mom … and millions of others … What I was taught in school is that one person can make a difference. Maybe my letter will,” she wrote.
Rumford said he wants to use that spirit to continue a legacy that was cut short. “I feel like there’s an angel on my shoulder – one who will help save lives,” he said. “No one else should have to experience this kind of horrendous, gut-wrenching tragedy.”