TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - There are several untrue stigmas about drug abusers:
Drug abuser are low-life wanderers. Drug abuse does not kill good people. And those killed by drug abuse are not loved, unconditionally, by those around them, nor do they have anyone they love.
The family of Christina Westfall, a woman killed by a crippling heroin addiction, are living testimonials that dispute those stigmas.
P.J. Champion-Sallie, Christina Westfall's mother, holds printed sheets of paper, folded in the form of a book entitled "Diary of a Grateful Kid. The book has the doodles that any child might make. But the story told inside is both heartbreaking and full of hope.
The diary belongs to a little girl named Lyla Ann, the daughter of Christina Westfall.
"I wouldn't wish this on anybody," P.J. said in a stern, but still vulnerable voice.
Outside P.J.'s house is a purple flag. In the middle is a picture of Christina with an infectious smile across her face. The text on the flag reads:
P.J. also keeps a copy of a magazine. The magazine's centerfold features a collage of pictures of mostly young people with large words in white print over a black background: "FACES OF AN EPIDEMIC."
"She always said she is going to be famous," P.J. said. "It has to be the centerfold of People, when she's not here anymore."
When the unknowing eye look through her pictures, Christina Westfall appeared to be happy, well-to-do woman surrounded by a loving family. She had a young daughter and a big sister.
"She was such a beautiful, beautiful person inside," P.J. said, fighting tears. "She had such a heart."
Christina had an entire life ahead of her until heroin came into her life. Christina began a downward spiral towards death. Her mother, as only a mother could, recognized what was happening.
Christina died at only 24-years-old. Afterward, Christina's mother began to pen a letter to her now-deceased daughter:
Christina was gone and her family, particularly her seven-year-old daughter Lyla, had to come to grips with the reality that lay before them.
P.J. began the process of adopting Christina's daughter. But her mind was consumed not only with Christina and her grandchild, but also with Christina's older sister Ashley.
"I have another daughter who is also an addict," P.J. said. "And she, about three months after her sister's death, OD'd and we almost lost her. The only reason she is alive is because a friend came in with a Narcan from a purse from a baseball game that they had and shot her with it."
Ashley, who has a son, is in rehab. P.J. currently in the process of adopting him as well.
"I'm really scared for her right now," P.J. said.
P.J. is 57-years-old. She planned to move to Florida to spend her golden years with little worries. Instead, she lives in a house not meant for two children. It's cramped with toys, games and priceless memories lining the walls.
"We have these beautiful, beautiful grandchildren to raise," P.J. said. "I'm looking for another house for us. This is just not conducive."
As pained as P.J. may be, she knows its the two children who suffer the most from their mothers' addictions. She is the one who will need to provide the strength for the children and provide them with some sense of normalcy.
"This one's got a heart," P.J. said while hugging Lyla. "I wake up and I'll look over and the dishes were done. And I look at her and say, 'Lyla did you do the dishes?' She says, 'Yeah, I told you!' For a seven-year-old, for the things she does, she's an old soul."
Through the pain, the family comforts each other. They pray together, holding hands.
Sometimes, they take out a white envelope containing a lock of Christina's hair. They hold onto the lock, as if praying they are praying to Christina directly.
But Lyla has more than just her mother's hair to hold onto.
"This is my bear. My T.T. made it for me," Lyla said, clutching the stuffed bear. "It has my mom's voice."
Lyla squeezes the bear and hears her mother call out, "I love you Lyla. I love you."