Toledo grandmother raising 3 kids orphaned by heroin

Tammy's son died of an overdose at just 19 years old. (Source: WTOL)
Tammy's son died of an overdose at just 19 years old. (Source: WTOL)

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - The grief is still fresh for Tammy Schlegel, who lost her son at just 19 years old.

He tried to quit using heroin, but his addiction eventually took his life.

Tammy is now raising her son's three young girls, keeping them together and out of foster care after losing their mom just a few weeks ago, also to heroin addiction.

"It's just sad. It's just so sad," Tammy said. "And I would hope that anybody would step up. It's not the kids' fault!"

Kayla is Tammy's oldest granddaughter. At 6 years old, she's still shy, but doing much better than three years ago when children's services came to take her away from her drug addicted mother.

Tammy says Kayla even tried to hide under her mother's sink.

"And I remember her saying 'Mommy, I'm just gonna hide under this sink here. They can't get me,'" Tammy said.

Tammy has since adopted Kayla and her two sisters,  Alana, 4 and Allie, 3. It's not what she expected to be doing at this point in her life.

"I'll be 71 by the time the last one's out the door," Tammy said.

After eight months in foster care, she was awarded full custody. She is now raising them, along with her longtime boyfriend, who helped raise her own kids.

Tammy had to fight in court to keep all the kids together, since her son isn't he biological father to them all.

"They have each other, and they're really close," she said.

Three years ago, Tammy's son Chris told her he was using heroin and showed her the needles.

"And there was just so many," she said. "He broke the needles and threw them in the dumpster. "

They took him to rehab, but the facility wouldn't admit him because heroin was still in his system.

He tried to quit on his own, but at just 19 years old, he died of an overdose.

Just three weeks ago, heroin addiction also took the girls' mom's life.

"And I think of heroin as the devil. I just do," Tammy said. "It got a hold of them, and they couldn't come back from it. "

She says Chris had a big heart and a big impact on people. She said he loved to make people laugh, volunteered and did work around the city. And loved his daughters.

"Addicts of any kind are people. They're just like us; They just have problems," said Tammy.

The heroin problem has impacted thousands of children in the Toledo area.

In Lucas County, there is still the need for more than 300 additional foster homes.

800 kids are in the county's Children Services' custody; 210 are in a relative's custody.

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