A life lost
Click here to read more stories of the Gazette's series on heroin and its impact on Rock County.
Know the signs
Signs and symptoms of heroin use include:
-- Impaired mental functioning
-- Slowed respiration
-- Constricted pupils
-- Sweating and itching
-- Trouble urinating, even though the bladder is full
Signs of a hroin overdose include:
-- Shallow breathing
-- Pinpoint pupils
-- Clammy skin
Source: National Institutes of Health
JANESVILLE Jacob Mayfield earned his share of medals from basketball and business-club competitions.
The sad reminders of his promising life hang on the wall in his tidy bedroom.
Jacob once planned to go to college and become an accountant.
But heroin killed the 18-year-old Parker High School graduate.
The deadliest of all illicit drugs also is suspected in the deaths of at least 10 other Rock County people since January 2008.
Jacob did not die in some dingy back alley of a big city. His heart stopped beating in the driveway of his neat, middle class home on Janesville’s west side.
Jacob’s mother, Kala Mayfield, refuses to let her son’s death pass quietly. She knows others are at risk. She understands it is too easy for parents to think heroin is someone else’s problem.
“They do not believe their kids will do heroin,” she says.
“They don’t think it can happen to them.”
On Feb. 5, Kala celebrated her child’s 19th birthday by taking a bouquet of fresh flowers and a balloon to his burial vault. She goes to the mausoleum often and sometimes finds carnations left by Jacob’s friends.
Ever since his death July 3, Kala wrestles with the same haunting thought: Heroin is a junkie’s drug. Only the worst of the street users take it, right? How could it rob the promising life of her smart son?
Kala’s generation understood the danger. But teenagers and young adults apparently do not. They are experimenting with the deadly drug, enjoying the euphoria and putting their lives at risk.
“I don’t know if I was making excuses or being naïve,” Kala says, recalling the months leading up to Jacob’s overdose. “I did not think he had a serious problem. After the fact, I started checking things out. I wanted to know about heroin.”
She once asked Jacob if he was doing heroin. When he replied, ‘Yes,’ she became angry, and he assured her he wouldn’t do it again.
Both said no more.
A couple of times, Kala found Jacob in a stupor. She thought he had been drinking and smoking pot. Police cited him at the beginning of his senior year for possession of marijuana and a pipe in his car.
“I knew you couldn’t die from pot,” Kala says. “I thought in the long term he will grow out of it.”
‘A lot of natural ability’
Jacob enrolled in advanced classes through high school. He took part in Washington Seminar for advanced government students and interviewed former presidential candidate John Kerry during a trip to Washington, D.C.
During his senior year, Jacob also took part in national DECA competition, which includes only the top 3 percent of business and marketing students across the nation. DECA, or Distributive Education Clubs of America, is an association of marketing and management students.
“Jake had a promising career interest in business,” says John Zimmerman, who teaches business education at Parker. “He was excellent in DECA. He had a lot of natural ability. Jake would ask for extra things to do. He wanted to soak it all in.”
Because Jacob loved DECA so much, his mother has started a scholarship at Blackhawk Credit Union in his memory. It will go to a graduating DECA student from Parker High School.
Teacher Crystal Callison characterizes Jacob as kind and respectful. She taught him advanced English in his freshman and senior years.
“Jake had a lot of potential to do many things in the world,” she says. “He also was well liked by all kinds of students, from those in advanced placement classes to those on the margins.”
Jacob’s dad died in November 2007 during first semester of his senior year. In his last month at school, Jacob missed classes and sometimes came to school sleepy. Callison did not suspect drug abuse.
“I’ve been heartbroken,” she says. “I don’t think you ever get over the loss of potential. It is scary when you look at other students and wonder what you’re missing.”
After graduation, Jacob was planning to attend UW-Rock County. He assured his mother he was going to make a lot of money one day and would take care of her. Kala is divorced and worked at General Motors for many years.
At 6 foot 4, Jacob dwarfed his mom. He often came up behind her and rested his chin lovingly on her head. Then he jokingly asked when she was going to grow up.
In retrospect, Kala believes she saw Jacob high on heroin two times. She doesn’t know how long he was using heroin, but she believes he must have snorted it because he was afraid of needles.
Snorting is the process of inhaling heroin powder through the nose, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream through the nasal tissues. Initially, the drug produces a warm feeling of euphoria. Then the user goes “on the nod,” an alternately wakeful and drowsy state.
Kala knows her son had two sets of friends: those who did not use drugs and those who did. She wanted Jacob to get out of Janesville after graduation to get away from the kids who were using, but he preferred to start college close to home.
‘A poor choice’
The day before he died, Jacob and his mother ran errands around town and stopped for ice cream. They laughed. They talked about self-esteem. They bought a video game.
Later, Jacob invited a friend to visit at the house. They played a video game in the garage. At 7:30 the next morning, Kala found her son passed out in the car in the driveway.
Kala and her other son, Joshua, were unable to remove him from the car so they left him there. Joshua moved the car in the garage so Jacob would not be in the sun, and Kala placed a pillow behind his head. Both checked on him throughout the morning. They believed he was passed out from drug use and would sleep it off. At about 12:50 p.m., Kala found her son not breathing. She called 911 and started life-saving efforts.
The Janesville Police Department and emergency medical services responded and transported Jacob to Mercy Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. A detective found small bags of a powdery white substance and several empty bags in the car.
The Rock County coroner’s report said Jacob’s blood sample was consistent with acute heroin overdose. The coroner did not find evidence to support suicidal intent.
“I don’t think he intended to do it,” Kala says. “He just made a poor choice.”
Kala now warns classes of Janesville high school students about the deadly danger of drug abuse.
“Heroin does not care who it touches,” she tells them.
“It touches people who are poor and people who have money. Kids try it, they like it and they try it again. If I help one of you say, ‘No,’ that is my ultimate goal. If I can save one of you, then something good has come of my son’s death.”
In one class, she asked how many students knew someone who uses heroin.
“All of them raised their hands,” Kala says. “One girl just sat and cried.”
The grieving mother attends a support group called Compassionate Friends, which meets in Madison.
“You try to understand what happened,” she explains. “You wonder when all the puppy dog eyes will quit. It’s not just that people feel sad for you. But they wonder what they would do if it were them.”
She went through the motions without Jacob at Christmas. She visited him at the mausoleum on his February birthday. She dreads the one-year anniversary of his death.
“I talk to Jacob every day,” Kala says.
“In the morning, I go outside, tell Jacob I love him and blow him a kiss—and I do it again at night. I am not a big church-going person, but this changes your life. I have faith. For me, it is thinking that he is up there and hoping that he is safe and happy. You want to think your loved one is in heaven.
“That is what sustains me.”