Suicide Prevention Awareness: Local family opens up about son’s death

By Laci Sutton / Staff Writer

Christopher Sullivan was born on March 13, 1994, in Wichita and was adopted by Jenny and John Sullivan when he was 2-years old.

Chris was an ornery, athletic and ambitious kid. He went to Hutchinson High School, was a state-qualifying wrestler, and was active in his church.

“He was full of life, he really was,” Jenny said.

In 2010, Chris’ family discovered he had begun using drugs. Chris came home from hanging out with some friends when his mother could smell marijuana. His hazel eyes were now grey.

Chris was grounded for almost an entire year. During that time, his grades improved. His behavior improved. His mother drug tested him at home, and he would pass.

Unbeknownst to the family, a new drug had hit the market. Synthetic marijuana, known by names such as K2, spice or potpourri. At the time, the new drug did not give positive readings on drug tests.

Some of the major side effects that come from using K2 include anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, and depression.

In April 2011, Chris had an episode showing symptoms similar to those of a heart attack, which are also symptoms from using K2. This was when the Sullivan family first knew Chris was using the new drug.

On April 22, 2011, while Jenny was at a doctor’s appointment with her daughter Nicole, they got a call from Trevor, Chris’ younger brother. Nicole told Jenny the boys were fighting, which wasn’t out of the ordinary for the siblings, as Chris was 17 and Trevor was 12-years old.

Trevor called his mother a second time, now with a more serious message.

“Mom, Chris is pretending to hang himself,” Trevor said.

Jenny knew something was wrong and rushed home.  As soon as they got him down, Jenny started CPR while Nicole called 911.  Chris had lost enough oxygen by the time EMS arrived that he needed to be life watched. Due to fuel costs, he wasn’t able to be taken by helicopter, and instead was life watched to Wichita by ambulance.

Chris was put on life support. The next 24-48 hours were hopeful for the Sullivan’s.

“He’d give us thumbs up, he’d wiggle his toes, so we knew he was hearing us. We knew he was still there.” Jenny said.

On the third night at the hospital, Jenny was woken up by some of Chris’ monitors. His blood pressure was skyrocketing. One of Chris’ caregivers was adjusting his respirator and Chris was not happy about it.

Once the doctors got Chris stabilized, they told the Sullivan’s they needed to make a decision the next morning. The stress on his body was detrimental. His parents went over to Chris, kissed him, and told him it was OK and that they loved him.

The next morning the doctors presented the family with their options. They were informed that at this point Chris would have to be on life support indefinitely to live. The Sullivans had decided to let Chris rest and to donate his organs.

On their fifth day in the hospital, they started finding recipients. Chris was able to save six lives, with one recipient receiving two organs.

The Sullivans have been able to meet the young woman who received Chris’ heart and has had contact with three others.

After a prayer vigil the family held, Jenny decided she needed to share their story. She needed to make sure people knew that this was a drug-related suicide.

“Drug-related suicides are harder to predict or see the signs for because they’re under the influence when they do it,” Jenny said.

“That’s why it’s very important, with drug use, to know all the different side effects that go hand-in-hand with it. So that you can get your child help before something like this were to happen.”

Suicide has been stereotyped to make people immediately think that people only do it because they’re anxious or depressed, but there are so many more factors.

“It’s not all about depression,” Jenny said. “Depression is this big umbrella and you have all these little things that can contribute to it. If we want to prevent suicide we need to prevent it at the core, which would be we need to stop bullying and we need to stop drug use and we need to stop all the contributing factors.”

While Chris’ death has been a tragedy for the Sullivan family, and countless others whose lives he touched, Jenny has been blessed with the opportunity to share their story, to raise awareness to drug-related suicide and to show people they are not alone in their battles.

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