Loss survivor: Talk to your kids

PHOTO PROVIDEDKai Arroyo with his dad, Richie Arroyo. Kai changed in the year before his death by suicide, his mother, Jess Desourdy, said — he became angry, lost interest in things he’d once loved to do. Medication and other treatment didn’t seem to help, she said, and he turned to marijuana and alcohol as his depression deepened. About 96 percent of teens who end their own lives exhibit signs beforehand, experts say. See a box listing them on Page A4.

DANNEMORA — Jess Desourdy can’t recall the last conversation she had with her son Malakai without choking back tears.

It was around 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 23, 2018, and Kai had an appointment at Behavioral Health Services North that morning at 11.

Jess hadn’t slept well the night before.

“I told him, ‘I need a little more sleep before our appointment — I don’t want to oversleep, so can you wake me up?’

“He said, ‘Yah,’ and I told him I loved him,” she said.

“I can’t remember if he said it back or not.”

But Kai didn’t rouse his mom.

A little more than an hour later, she discovered he had died by suicide in his bedroom.

He was 16.

A DIFFERENT KID

The year leading up to Kai’s death, Jess knew he was in trouble.

“He was a different kid; he wasn’t the one who sat down and cut up with mom anymore.

“He was always angry.”

Prior to those changes in her son, Jess said, he was the type of kid who loved to help people.

“He would ask me frequently to take him to the Salvation Army soup kitchen to volunteer,” she said.

But Kai lost interest in the things he’d once enjoyed, like riding his bike, going camping and hiking.

TOOK A TOLL

In 2017, Jess was injured in an automobile accident and was prescribed powerful painkillers.

“The amount of medication they had me on really messed with Kai,” she said.

Jess’s mother — Kai’s grandmother — had died by suicide in 2013, and Jess thinks the way her own painkillers affected her triggered memories of that loss.

Jess was quite young when she began having children, and her mother had played a significant role in raising Kai.

“We were a close-knit family, and all this took a toll on him, and I could see it,” Jess said.

SELF-MEDICATED

After his mother’s accident, Kai lost a significant amount of weight.

He experimented with marijuana and drank alcohol to cope with his feelings.

Jess said things really hit a low point when he started self-injuring — cutting himself.

“You could hear the depression in him just by the way he talked,” she said.

They sought help from Behavioral Health Services North, a human services agency that provides treatment and prevention services.

MEDICATION

Jess said they prescribed Guanfacine to Kai.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, Guanfacine is a drug used to control nerve impulses and can be used to treat high blood pressure, but is also effective in treating impulsive behavior and the inability to concentrate.

“All it did was make him tired,” she said.

Jess recalls one appointment at BHSN last September, just a month before Kai’s death.

“I heard him tell the doctor, ‘I can’t live like this. I can’t take it anymore; I need help.’”

INPATIENT STAY

BHSN had Kai admitted to University of Vermont Health Network, Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh.

Jess said that, after the stint in the Mental Health Unit there, her son told her the only thing it did was make him sober, and it was at this time he stopped taking his prescribed medication.

There seemed to be nothing anyone could do to help her son escape the depression he had been battling over the last year, she said.

And he continued to spiral downhill.

“At this point, he stopped brushing his hair and changing his clothes,” Jess said.

“He lost his will to live.

“Nothing I did helped,” she said.

MORE TRAGEDY

Each day has been a struggle for the entire family since Kai’s death, including for his dad, Richie Arroyo, and three siblings.

On Dec. 30, barely two months later, they lost everything in a fire that destroyed the apartment house where they lived in Dannemora.

Jess and her daughter, Shanika, barely escaped — they had to jump from a second-story window and both sustained minor injuries.

Richie spent five days in the burn unit at University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington.

“In two months’ time, I lost my son, my pets and everything I owned,” Jess said.

“At first, I couldn’t eat or sleep, and my daughter was struggling in school; she is still trying to catch up.

“To be honest, I have no clue what makes me get out of bed every day.”

TALK TO THEM

Her advice to other parents who think their kids may be silently struggling is simple.

“Talk to your kids,” she said.

“As scared as you might be just to talk to them, you (may) not get a second chance.”