Ex-heroin addict says pregnancy turned her life around
LANCASTER — Erin Genther's heroin addiction brought her to dangerous lows, none more harrowing than the nights she spent sleeping in abandoned buildings on a street known as “Murder Drive.”
Genther couldn't kick her 20-bag-a-day habit, even after three stints in rehab and a few months in jail.
The turning point came with a positive pregnancy test.
Genther's family and friends told her there was no way she could be a mother. Adoption was the baby's best chance.
But Genther's unborn baby provided powerful motivation to stay clean. She spent two years at Milagro House, a Lancaster program that provides housing and education for homeless women and children.
Genther is one of more than 1,000 residents who have stayed at Milagro House, which marks its 15th anniversary this year. She credits the program with helping her become who she is today: a mother of three, with a mortgage and a full-time job as a nurse.
“(Without Milagro House) I wouldn't have kept my daughter,” she says. “I wouldn't have gotten an education. I wouldn't have stayed clean.
“I wouldn't be alive, realistically.”
Genther, 30, grew up in a wealthy, two-parent home with a country club for a backyard. She dabbled in pot and cocaine as a student at Cumberland Valley High School.
“I didn't know what I was doing until it was too late,” she says.
One snowy day, Genther's dealer ran out of coke. He offered heroin instead. Genther loved the warm, comforting feeling that flooded her. She ended up shoveling snow in a T-shirt.
Before long, Genther would get physically sick if she didn't use heroin. She was able to function at school and her part-time jobs at McDonald's and Perkins. Her paychecks funded her burgeoning heroin habit.
In 2001, Genther graduated from high school — barely. Then her mom found out about her drug use and ordered her to rehab.
Three days later, Genther promised to stay clean and convinced her mom to pick her up.
She started using again that very night.
“(My mom) would say, ‘If you love me enough, you'll stay clean,' ” Genther says. “It isn't like that. I wanted to stop for her, but I just couldn't.”
Genther's mom eventually pressed charges against her for stealing checks. She hoped a few months in jail would help her daughter kick heroin.
After losing her mom to lung cancer, Genther went to rehab in Chicago, where her sister lived.
Finding drugs in a big city proved even easier and cheaper. A dealer hung out next door to the rehab, so Genther could buy drugs anytime she went outside.
In spring 2004, an aunt who had donated clothing to Milagro House took Genther there for a tour. Genther couldn't wait to move in. She called every day until a room opened up.
Despite the chore chart and initial 6 p.m. curfew, Genther was determined to stay in the program.
“If I couldn't follow (the rules), how would I be a productive member of society and not get arrested again?” she says.
Milagro House staff took Genther to doctor's appointments and childbirth classes. One even supported her during labor. Genther's daughter was born in July 2004. Although she was exposed to drugs early in her development, the baby was born healthy.
Genther completed a licensed practical nursing program in spring 2006. She moved out of Milagro House, and a Harrisburg-area nursing home hired her on the spot. She eventually bought a home in New Cumberland. She now works at a nursing home for patients on ventilators, while her boyfriend cares for their children at home.
Executive director Gail Rittenhouse says Genther's success story is just one example of Milagro House's life-changing power.
“Our program does work,” she says.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pennsylvania Department of Health will note fracking complaints
- Food fundraisers have to be healthy — it’s the law
- Pennsylvania’s public school staffing at 10-year low
- Education Department ordered to release 644 pages of emails on abuse at Penn State
- Corbett, Wolf agree on 3 gubernatorial debates
- Departing prosecutor in Pennsylvania Turnpike pay-to-play case does not blame lack of resources