A family’s mission
Student-athletes and their parents took a timeout from discussions of sportsmanship and league rules to hear some hard truths about opioid addiction during the annual Athletic First Night program Sunday, Aug. 23.
“We’re trying to talk about little bit more than athletics and … trying to keep our students safe and having them make good decisions in life,” Athletic Director Bob Rodgers said.
This talk was from a family who knows the pitfalls of bad decisions.
Lori and David Gonsalves of Taunton spoke of watching their son Cory Palazzi spiral from a National Honor Society student and high school graduate being looked at by Seattle Mariners scouts, to a legally blind young man dealing with the speech and motor skills challenges that stem from anoxic brain damage following a heroin overdose two years ago.
David Gonsalves is a teacher in Taunton schools and Lori, who co-chairs the Taunton Opiates Task Force, works for a local insurance agency.
“We have a great life, we have a son whose name is Cory and we wanted to talk to you about our journey with Cory,” Lori said. “We just want you to listen to our story and realize that it can happen to anyone.”
Palazzi, too, spoke to the gathering in the Dr. John F. McEwan Performing Arts Center at WHRHS.
“My life doesn’t [stink] now because of doing this — going out and speaking to kids about the dangers of using drugs,” he said, asking for a show of hands as to how many liked using Facebook and Instagram and couldn’t wait to get their driver’s license.
“I can never do those things again,” he said. “Please remember me if you ever come across the chance to use drugs.”
The UMass, Dartmouth nursing student became a heroin addict after a devastating shoulder injury ended his dreams of pursuing a baseball career.
A four-sport athlete who excelled in soccer, basketball and football, Palazzi’s father said baseball was always his favorite. But, during his senior year of high school, he had to undergo surgery for a shoulder injury. He was prescribed opioid painkillers and took them as directed as he recovered from the operation.
Surgery, however, was not successful and Palazzi would never be able to throw a baseball or football professionally.
At 18, his dreams of a sports career were over.
Depression and anxiety set in a year later while he attended college and saw his friends going to baseball and football practices he could not join.
Remembering how Percocet had eased his emotional as well as physical pain after surgery, he began taking opioids again illegally, his father recalled. Shortly afterward, Palazzi told his parents he was leaving school.
“I was kind of looking for red flags because he’s very smart,” David said. “For him not to be able to make the grade in college was a bit of a red flag.”
After Palazzi moved back home, he started losing jobs. His parents noticed that new red flag and found drug paraphernalia in his car and room. That led to Palazzi’s first stint in rehab. There would be 11 more in the next few years until, while Palazzi was living in a sober house, his parents received the phone call they dreaded — a roommate told them he had overdosed and the hospital wanted to know if the family wanted a priest to perform Last Rites as he was not expected to survive.
“He was on life support,” David said. “At one point his heart stopped and they shocked him back. … Drugs on that night let him live, but they kind of left him and us with a reminder of the power they hold over him.”
“As you can see, the last six years of our lives have been difficult,” Lori said. “This disease is real. It can happen to anyone. … This is the face of today’s addict. This is the family of today’s addict.”
She said the three most dangerous words parents can lean on are, “Not my kid.” All prescriptions in the home should be carefully monitored and unused medications should be taken to disposal bins at a police station.
Both Whitman and Hanson police departments have prescription drug drop boxes in the lobby for public use.
While Palazzi came out of the crisis, after 40 days in the hospital, with no intellectual injuries, his physical ones require round-the-clock care, forcing his mother to work from home to care for him.
“You ask him what Papi’s batting average is right now, he’d be able to tell you,” David said.
“David Ortiz, by the way, is batting .265, and you could look that up on Google right now,” Palazzi said after slowly navigating the stairs to the PAC stage, with help from a brace and cane. He also recalled having pitched against W-H 11 years ago.
“The first game that I ever played in high school was against W-H at Taunton High and I struck out the first 15 of the game,” he said with a laugh to great applause. “In my sophomore year against you guys I hit three home runs in one game. But I also played football here on your new field and was awesome, because our field at Taunton High was no good.”
After Palazzi and his parents concluded their talk, Rodgers talked about a W-H cheerleader who also graduated in 2006.
“She was a beautiful girl, great student,” he said. “She lost her life from an overdose. It happens in our community, it happens to students of good families. You don’t know when it’s going to happen.”
Rodgers noted that Whitman Police Chief Scott Benton was in attendance at the event to support the prevention effort, as was Deputy Chief Timothy Hanlon. Whitman DARE Officer Kevin Harrington and Hanson DARE and School Resource Officer William Frazier were also recognized.
“If you need anything throughout the school year … please come see me,” Frazier said, noting he could help with social media, bullying and other concerns or questions families may have. “I’m very approachable, it will be private.”