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‘Her death definitely saved my life’: Kyle Cox has been clean since the day his fiancee died of heroin OD

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 3/27/18

Two weeks after Valentine’s Day, the wooden table in Wendy Loranzo’s dining room on Adelia Street in Middletown still was covered with large bouquets of red roses.

Rose petals were …

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‘Her death definitely saved my life’: Kyle Cox has been clean since the day his fiancee died of heroin OD

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Two weeks after Valentine’s Day, the wooden table in Wendy Loranzo’s dining room on Adelia Street in Middletown still was covered with large bouquets of red roses.

Rose petals were scattered across the table. Next to the vases of red roses in full bloom were placed framed copies of a large color photo of Wendy’s daughter, Elizabeth.

She has the looks of a fashion model; her reddish hair stylishly accenting bright brown eyes and a broad smile. The photo has become a familiar image in the past year all over the region, to thousands of people who never knew Elizabeth Loranzo when she was alive.

Elizabeth Loranzo died on March 19, 2017, of an accidental overdose from taking heroin laced with fentanyl.

Her death led Wendy Loranzo to create The Elizabeth Loranzo iCare Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides support, financial and otherwise, to people who are battling addiction, depression, anxiety, domestic abuse and alcoholism.

March 19, 2017, is also the last time that Elizabeth Loranzo’s fiance, Kyle Cox, used heroin. Cox said the only reason he knows he is coming up on a year clean is that his recovery anniversary is the same day that Elizabeth died.

Otherwise, Cox said he doesn’t like to keep track of how long he has been in recovery.

“It doesn’t matter if you are a day clean, or 10 days or one year. An addict is an addict,” Cox told the Press & Journal while sitting at that same wooden table in the kitchen, with Elizabeth’s smiling face looking on amidst the roses.

He had been “on and off” of heroin for seven years, but never made it a whole year without using, until now.

Cox is raising Carson, the now almost 2-year-old boy he had with Elizabeth. Wendy, Carson’s grandmother, is a constant source of support. Kyle and Carson live with Wendy’s ex-husband in Londonderry Township.

Besides being a single father, Cox is working full-time, going to and leading recovery classes every week, and  starting school this summer at Harrisburg Area Community College to become a probation officer.

“It’s a shame to say, but her death definitely saved my life,” Cox says today.

How they met

They met when Cox and Elizabeth were in rehab at Roxbury in Shippensburg.

Cox grew up in Elizabethtown to alcoholic parents. “Addiction runs pretty deep in my family,” but otherwise things were “OK” growing up.

He graduated from Elizabethtown Area High School and got a masonry degree from vocational-technical school. He started smoking pot, got in trouble with the law, and ended up in what would be the first of many stints on probation.

He stayed away from drugs for about two years until he got his first job at a retirement community. Some of the other kids working there were experimenting with opiate pills, and Cox joined in. He got hooked “before I even knew it.”

He was tricked into using heroin the first time, by a friend who told him it was a crushed-up pill.

“I loved it,” Cox said.

He became addicted and stayed on heroin for about a year and half until his parents made him go to rehab. He didn’t want to be there so he left after 16 days and was back on heroin right away.

‘I didn’t want a girlfriend’

After about another two years, Cox went to his second rehab in Harrisburg. He was ready to stop using, but Cox said he didn’t like the facility and left after detoxification.

Seven days later he was using heroin again. He got fired from his job and spent time in jail on forgery charges for writing bad checks to himself.

He told the judge he was addicted to heroin and she ordered him to rehab at Roxbury. “I was ready to quit,” Cox said.

“I didn’t want a girlfriend,” he said of meeting Elizabeth at Roxbury. “I was trying to stay away from women, just get my life together.”

“She had met a new boyfriend in recovery which is rule No. 1 — don’t do that,” Wendy Loranzo told an audience at Penn State Harrisburg during a recent public forum on the opioid epidemic.

But in retrospect, Wendy said meeting Kyle got Elizabeth out of a bad relationship with an abusive man who Wendy calls a “thug.”

Elizabeth was “very anti-drug” growing up, Wendy said, so much that Elizabeth sought to escape drugs at Middletown Area School District by moving in with Wendy’s ex-husband so she could go to Lower Dauphin School District.

She was bullied and suffered from depression and anxiety, but Elizabeth stayed away from drugs at Lower Dauphin and went on to school to become a beautician.

One day a client asked Elizabeth if she could help her son, who was a heroin addict and in jail.

“‘You have your life together — could you write to him in prison and help him out?’” Wendy said the client asked Elizabeth.

That man turned out to be a thug, as Wendy calls him. Elizabeth and the man got into a romantic relationship. With that her life went into a downward spiral.

“He beat her, stole her money, wrecked her car,” Wendy said during the forum. “They had countless fights when he was high. She got thrown out of two apartments, she lost friends, family, a job.”

The thug eventually talked Elizabeth into doing heroin, too, telling her “it would take away all her pain,” Wendy said.

Wendy got Elizabeth into rehab at Roxbury, but insurance only allowed her to stay for 17 days.

“Me not knowing anything about heroin or its addiction — I thought she was cured,” Wendy said.

It seemed that way for awhile, for both Kyle and Elizabeth. They stayed together after Roxbury, and Elizabeth got pregnant.

Trip to dentist

Kyle said he was clean until he went to the dentist and was given a prescription for Vicodin, an opioid used to relieve pain.

“I thought I would be OK taking it because I was in pain,” Cox told the Press & Journal. “But the stuff has a grip on me, and I don’t have control over it.”

He took the prescription and almost immediately “I was back out there on heroin.”

He tried to hide his using again from Elizabeth, who had stayed clean, but she caught him. Kyle said he knew Elizabeth wanted to use again, but “she stayed strong.”

The turning point came when Elizabeth’s dream of having her own hairdressing salon came crashing down.

“We had it all set up,” Kyle remembers. “She was happy and excited. We were looking at our own house as well. Things were looking up, and then at the last minute the landlord to the studio said he didn’t want a salon in there. That devastated her.”

They started using heroin together again during a bad snowstorm in early March 2017, getting cabin fever from being cooped up and bored in the house with Carson.

About a week later, they got “a real bad batch” from a dealer — straight fentanyl, Cox said — although the autopsy report after Elizabeth’s death would say it was heroin and fentanyl.

Cox passed out.

“I never experienced anything like it,” he said of what he took that night. “I couldn’t talk. I just fell asleep.”

He awoke about two or three hours later to find Elizabeth lying dead next to him. Her death was an accident due to acute fentanyl toxicity, based on results of the autopsy of Elizabeth’s body done on March 21, 2017.

Lucky to be alive

Cox today considers himself lucky to be alive.

Looking back, there are things he wishes he had done differently. If so, Elizabeth might still be alive.

“I feel guilty about it,” he said of her death. “I was in drug and alcohol counseling when Liz was pregnant with my son, and right before she had Carson I gave up everything. I said, ‘This kid is gonna keep me clean.’ I love my son, I’ve always been there for my son, I’ve always been a good dad. But not even my son could keep me clean. That’s how strong this drug is.”

It’s hard for someone who has never used heroin to understand the hold it has on people.

“It’s the best thing you can think of times 10,” Cox said. “It’s just a pleasure that just takes away all your worries, anything.”

People using heroin think they can keep it under control. That changes very quickly, before they even know it, Cox said. Before long you’re getting sick because you aren’t using it. You’re no longer using heroin to get high, but to be normal and to function. That’s why it’s so hard to quit.

Addicts hear of the overdoses but think it can never happen to them, Cox said.

“Neither of us ever suspected in our wildest dreams that she would die.”

“I watched something just kill my best friend, the person I loved forever,” he said. “She was lying there dead from something we just did. I’ve got to explain that to my son. Someday I have to tell him when he can understand what actually happened.”

Wonder drug

Elizabeth’s death shocked Kyle, but a drug named Vivotrol made his recovery possible.

Vivotrol is the brand name for naltrexone, a non-narcotic medication released in 2006. Addicts got a shot of Vivotrol once a month. Wendy got Kyle on Vivotrol within a few weeks of Elizabeth dying.

To Cox, Vivotrol is a wonder drug.

“I honestly don’t think I would have made it through her death and everything else on top of it sober without Vivotrol,” he said. Vivotrol blocks the transmitters in your brain into which the heroin goes.

“It (heroin) can’t get in there to make you feel anything, so if you were to do heroin on Vivotrol, you can’t feel it,” Cox said.

Vivotrol alone isn’t enough for an addict to stay clean. But Vivotrol enabled Cox to do the other things he needed to do to recover.

“Vivotrol kept my cravings away for heroin. I didn’t even think of heroin,” he said. “Having that shot, while I built my recovery, I learned the things I love again. I’m heavy into the gym. I go every day not just for my fitness but for mental health. That really helps my recovery not wanting to use. I learned how to be a father again.”

Cox believes he is now strong enough in his recovery that he was able to go off Vivotrol recently.

Besides continuing his own counseling, Cox has become a resource to others on heroin who are trying to find a way out. These people call Wendy at all hours of the day and night. She often gives them Cox’s phone number. As an addict, Cox can tell who is serious and who is putting on a show.

“More will fail than will actually stay clean. That’s the worse part of this,” he said. For those who are sincere, Cox doesn’t tell them what to do, but tells them what has worked for him.

“I tell them, ‘Give it a try. You have nothing to lose. You gamble with your life everyday. Give it a shot.’ It has worked for a lot of people.”

Cox wants to become a probation officer “to give back.” After so many years being on probation himself, he’s seen all kinds of POs — those who are just in it for a paycheck, and those who can make a difference.

“My last PO really inspired me,” he said. “She didn’t know I was addicted to heroin. She said, ‘If there is anything you struggle with or need help with, I am not here to lock you up. You can tell me anything.’ That really touched me, that I was in trouble but I had someone in my corner that I could talk to. That’s what I want to do. I just want to give back and help, because jail is not the answer to all this.”

Keeping her legacy alive

Wendy Loranzo has said Elizabeth died for a reason — “for me to help other people.”

Cox telling his own story is part of keeping her legacy alive.

“Wendy has saved countless lives, and none of that would have ever happened if this tragedy never happened,” he said.

Cox tells his story because he hopes other people can learn from it in order to get clean and stay clean.

Otherwise, he’s uncomfortable when people compliment him on his recovery.

“I’m just doing what I was supposed to be doing. I went through a rough patch, I’m past that. I take care of my responsibilities,” he said. “I don’t like being congratulated for doing what I was supposed to do, while the normal guy is out there busting his butt who has never used heroin. This guy is getting all the praise and he was a junkie.”

He considers addiction a disease, although Cox prefers the word “disorder.”

“An addict always has a choice,” he said. “If you struggle with heroin or know someone, you don’t have to live that way. There is another way to life, there’s a better life than being addicted to heroin. It’s as simple as that.”

Charges filed

On Feb. 27, State Police charged Abigail Morgan Fanus, 33, of Elizabethtown, and Teen Michael Weah, 26, of Delaware County, in connection with Elizabeth’s death.

Both are charged with manufacture, delivery or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver; and drug delivery resulting in death.

Fanus waived a March 19 preliminary hearing and is to be arraigned on the charges in Dauphin County Court on June 1. She is free after posting $50,000 unsecured bail.

Weah had also been scheduled for a March 19 preliminary hearing before District Judge David Judy, but information on the result of the hearing was not immediately available. Weah also remains free after posting $50,000 bail, according to online court records.

Funds come in for iCare Foundation

The Elizabeth Loranzo iCare Foundation was chosen to receive proceeds from the annual charity event held by the Harrisburg chapter of The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.

The chapter each year picks a local or national nonprofit organization that is active in this area to receive proceeds from the annual charity event, which was held on Friday, March 16, at the Midtown Arts Center in Harrisburg.

A chapter press release announcing the selection said that the iCare Foundation “has been working diligently to educate the community about the current opioid epidemic and provide support to those fighting addiction.”

The foundation was started by Elizabeth’s mother, Wendy Loranzo, after Elizabeth died from an accidental overdose of heroin laced with fentanyl in Londonderry Township on March 19, 2017.

Loranzo told the Press & Journal that $1,500 in proceeds from raffle prizes came in during the St. Patrick event. She did not have a total for the overall amount that was raised during the event to benefit the foundation.

Otherwise, Loranzo said that The Mill Restaurant in Hershey raised $400 for the iCare Foundation through a non-alcoholic drink special that the restaurant had throughout February.

Another $500 was raised through a “Pay It Forward” event held at the 230 Cafe in Highspire on March 12, according to Loranzo.