I won’t pretend to understand how badly Dr. Sandy Harris wanted to have children.
After years of infertility treatments that went nowhere.
After years of bringing so many beautiful babies into the world as an OB-GYN at Rush-Copley Medical Center.
That’s why I also can’t imagine the joy this Aurora woman must have felt when Sean Luke was placed into her arms soon after his birth in that 1994 open adoption.
He was perfect: coffee-colored complexion. Large dark eyes. And that shock of black hair that would become a medium of artistic expression as he grew more independent.
It’s no wonder mother and child were close, and stayed that way even when she and husband Stuart adopted two other children. Any mom will tell you: There’s something special about that first one.
As Sean grew to be a teenager, mother and son, of course, had their share of battles. But Sean would always come to his parent’s bedroom in the middle of the night and want to talk through those differences. That loving sensitive quality, Harris told me, said a lot about the son they were raising.
Sean was a happy and creative kid. He loved his crazy hair. He loved music and art. But school was difficult. He attended Aurora Christian until his sophomore year, then transferred to West High. Still he struggled, especially after he developed anxiety that seemed to worsen three years ago when his birth mother died from pneumonia complications.
Perhaps that’s why Sean felt the need to reconnect with the birth father he’d not seen since age 10. Harris warned her son to stay away from the man because she’d heard he was into bad things. She thought he’d heeded her motherly advice.
Until the morning of Sept. 8, 2012.
Harris was with her second son at the Naperville Apple store when she got the call. Go to the hospital immediately. Sean was supposed to have spent the night with a North Aurora friend. But Harris was a doctor. She knew what those words meant.
Sean was dead when she arrived. He’d been found unresponsive that morning in bed, yet another victim of heroin, in his birth father’s home on Chicago’s South Side.
Since then, Harris has juggled work and home with feelings of grief, anger and blame. She does not know if this was the first time Sean tried heroin. She does not know what role his birth father, who has a prison record, had in his death. Chicago police told the family there was not enough evidence to charge him with anything, and she does not seek details.
Nothing can change the fact Sean is dead at age 18.
Friends, family and a strong church support group have helped her get through this past year. But it was at a Schaumburg rally she attended on Aug. 24, Drug Overdose Awareness Day, when Harris made the decision to get more involved.
Doctors’ kids. Teachers’ kids. Cops’ kids. If you haven’t figured out by now that heroin does not discriminate, please come out from under that rock. Lift your head out from under the sand.
“We didn’t see this coming,” Kane County Sheriff Lt.. Pat Gengler told me this week. “And we can’t figure out how to stop it.”
That doesn’t mean we stop trying.
Last Sunday, on the anniversary of Sean’s death, the Harris family and a front-lawn filled with those who loved him released balloons in his memory. They laughed and cried and dedicated a concrete bench that is etched with words reminding them of how special this young man was.
Sandy Harris is a private person. She was concerned about doing this interview, about revealing this most intimate pain in such a public way. But then she remembers all those beautiful babies she helps bring into this world.
She remembers the one she got to keep.
“We have to protect them,” she says, “any way we can.”