By Andrea Cordle
John Gerlach grew up in Westgate with a loving family. He graduated high school and held a steady job.
“On the outside, everything looked alright but inside it wasn’t,” he said.
Gerlach was an addict.
About nine years ago, Gerlach accidentally overdosed on a combination of drugs. He was found barely breathing in his apartment. Medics arrived and administered Narcan then rushed Gerlach to the hospital where he spent several days in the intensive care unit.
“Now that wasn’t my last use or sobriety date,” said Gerlach.
It was years later when Gerlach finally asked for help. Now, he is sober and giving thanks to those who helped him in his journey to recovery.
“You have got to show gratitude,” said Gerlach. “Gratitude is an action word.”
Gerlach, along with the Desert Island Club, will host a We Do Recover event as part of EMS Appreciate Week. The event will take place from 12 to 5 p.m. May 19 at Westgate Park, 3217 Wicklow Road in Columbus.
Gerlach said people are welcome to share their stories of hope and say thank you to the first responders who have saved lives.
“Those guys (first responders) watch us destroy ourselves over and over again,” said Gerlach. “Then we thank them by fighting with them in the ambulance.”
The Columbus Division of Fire Rapid Response Emergency Addiction and Crisis Team (RREACT) will have a booth set up at the event.
Lt. Matt Parrish, who oversees RREACT said their goal is to get people into treatment.
“We give addiction the same respect and support as any other disease,” said Parrish.
Parrish said he is working to remove the stigma associated with addiction.
“If you go to work and tell everyone your child has cancer, people rally around you and organize 5Ks. If you tell people your child is an addict, they put their heads down and turn away. We need to break down that stigma.”
Last year, the Columbus Division of Fire responded to 3,387 runs where Naloxone was used. The RREACT team helped connect more than 1,000 of those individuals to treatment providers or other social services.
“Addiction is difficult for families and it impacts society,” said Parrish. “It takes a community to help someone recover.”
That is why Parrish called We Do Recover a “fantastic event,” especially for the westside of Columbus.
“The westside is one of the hardest hit areas,” said the fire lieutenant who grew up on the westside of Columbus. “It’s hard to see the area struggle but a lot of people are doing good work.”
Gerlach said if not for the medics who arrived when he overdosed, he would not be alive.
“Someone helped me when I could not help myself,” said Gerlach.
Parrish said events like We Do Recover give him hope.
“We see these people at their worst time. This gives us hope to see the folks who have made it.”
Gerlach said addiction is a disease that does not discriminate but said recovery is possible.
“Sometimes we do recover. Sometimes we can help someone else,” he said.
We Do Recover will feature food, motivational speakers, live music and more. It is supported by not only RREACT, but also the Columbus Police Department, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department HOPE Task Force and the Franklin and Prairie township fire departments. It is open to the public.
Fore more information on the We Do Recover event, call the Desert Island Club at 614-826-0437 or John Gerlach at 614-419-0402.