April 14 marks five years since the opioid crisis was declared a public health emergency. The B.C. Coroners Service recently reported that last February was the deadliest month of February ever on provincial health record, with 155 suspected overdose deaths in B.C., a 107 per cent increase from the same month a year prior.
Three of those deaths were in the East Kootenay. For every statistic, there is a name, an individual, a family dealing with incredible loss. This is the story of one of them.
In January of this year, Blair Vanoni’s only child Alexa passed away at the age of 23 due to an overdose. She was a drummer for much of her life and Blair decided to donate her drum set to Selkirk Secondary in Kimberley where she went and played in the music program.
“I was a bit of a drummer myself, not real good or anything, so I had this old kit that I used to play on and she’d always come downstairs and watch,” Vanoni recalled. “Then she started saying ‘daddy, I want to play!’ Like she was only three years old!”
He began teaching his daughter everything he knew, but eventually she started surpassing what he was able to teach her himself, so he hired some drummers he knew to give her more advanced lessons.
He said from there, she just started to love playing the drums. She eventually got involved with the music program at school and was looking to start a band outside of school but didn’t know anyone who played guitar.
Selkirk held a talent show at one point and Vanoni said she did an awesome job, despite appearing a bit nervous.
“She was involved with the music program in high school,” Vanoni said. “But they had two or three drummers so their wasn’t a lot of time and she was kind of bored with it because she was much better than what the rest of the students were.”
Vanoni said drums and music weren’t her only skill, she was also a talented creative writer and often wrote poetry.
Her kit had all the bells and whistles; a drum rack with lots of cymbals mounted to it, roto-toms, cowbells, woodblocks, a tambourine mounted to the hi-hats.
Vanoni said he even gutted the basement of the old house and built a soundproof room for her to play in, because, as any parent of a musician and drummer especially can attest to, it drove him a little crazy at times.
“She just started loving it,” he said. “She used to play them all the time until she got into the drugs and then they just kind of sat there.”
Alexa’s mother passed away when she was around 12-years-old and Vanoni said she had a very hard time with it. He tried getting her into counselling and grief counselling, but said it just didn’t seem to work.
“The drugs just seemed to get rid of that pain for her,” he said. “That was the reason I believe she got into the drugs.”
He said donating her drums and knowing they’re going to be put to use has been a therapeutic thing for him.
“I was offered $2,500 for them and I thought, I don’t need the money, I would rather see other kids being able to enjoy them,” he said. “At that time I believed they had a newer kit when I delivered them, but Alexa’s still was a better kit than what they had there, and I just thought I’d love to be able to see some kid going crazy on those drums and appreciating it.”
Sven Heyde is the music instructor at Selkirk Secondary and taught Alexa for a few years both at McKim and Selkirk.
“I very much enjoyed having her in the program,” Heyde said. “Her dad reached out after her passing and offered to donate her drums to the music program, which was a kind gesture.
“We’re a gear intensive program and often have more than one drum set setup at a time in order to maximize rehearsal time and use our spaces efficiently. It was nice of Alexa’s dad to donate these drums and we will be putting them to good use over the coming months and years.”
Vanoni said he’s happy to know the drums will be put to good use by students at Selkirk for years to come. He also mentioned that he had one day hoped to pass down his businsess Lexavan Transport, named after his daughter, to Alexa.
If you or a loved one are dealing with addiction, consider reaching out for help. There are a number of local services available such as East Kootenay Addiction Services Society (EKASS), who provides free, confidential counselling as well as referral to treatment and detox facilities. They also provide harm reduction programs and supplies and provide education and outreach.
ANKORS, the AIDS Network Kootenay Outreach and Support Society, also provides harm reduction services including drug testing.