Pat Ungaro reflects on the loss of his youngest son to heroin addiction
Michelle Nicks, Reporter | wfmj.com on Wednesday, 03 May 2017. Posted in News
The story of how one young man's heroin addiction started is terribly familiar, and the name of his father left behind to tell his story is even more familiar.
21 News sat down with former Youngstown Mayor Pat Ungaro to talk about how he fought to save his youngest son, but in the end heroin's hold was too strong. He now finds his strength in the one thing Sean left behind.
Ungaro describes his son's addiction as the most difficult and challenging time of his life. "It was probably the worst 10 years of my life to watch somebody that had so much going for them; very smart, high IQ, the best jobs, good-looking. And to see him die an inch at a time is awful, and then you bury your kid is just something that you can't even imagine."
The former Youngstown mayor is breaking his media silence after four and a half years about the death of his youngest son, 39-year-old Sean Ungaro.
Currently as the Liberty Township administrator, Ungaro says the 10 year drug addiction that killed his son is an open wound that will never heal.
"He had a hernia operation with problems and one of the treatments for it was Oxycontin and he told me the first time he took it he loved it," Ungaro said.
When the prescriptions ran out, Sean turned to the street drug heroin.
He lost his job at General Motors in Lordstown because of his addiction, he stole from his family and others just like most addicts do, and even landed himself in prison at one point.
Ungaro says he even gave his son an ultimatum, either go to a
long-term rehab in Iowa or go to prison. He chose prison.
However, Ungaro says his son did go to rehab locally 12 times, but would come out and be okay, and then he would automatically fall back into that trap on the street.
The former mayor says there was nothing he wouldn't do to save his son. "I even used my influence as mayor to get him arrested. When he wasn't going to rehab, I'd get him arrested and put him in the county jail. I didn't know what else to do," Ungaro said.
He even found himself doing crazy things like looking for his son in drug houses in an effort to keep him alive.
Ungaro said, "I actually went in homes where he was at, in dangerous neighborhoods, and I took him out of the home."
And just one day before his death, Sean made a haunting prediction about heroin's hold on his life and even told his father about the most important thing he would leave behind when he died.
"He said I don't belong on this Earth. I'm going to leave you the best part of me," Ungaro said through tear filled eyes.
Sean died of an overdose at an Austintown hotel the next day. A needle in his arm.
He left behind his young son little Seanny who is now tall like his dad at about 5'8" or 5'9" and about 170 pounds.
Ungaro drives seven hours to see him at least once a month, and little Seanny is now 14. He will spend the summer with the man now taking on the role as his father.
As for what advice Ungaro would give other families living with a child addicted? "I would tell people be open about it. Don't try to hide it. You won't win. It will kill you more if you don't. Go to co-dependency meetings, talk to other people that are going through it," Ungaro said.
But most important, according to the former Youngstown mayor who aches for his son every day, "You've just got to appreciate every moment with them. Tell them you love them. Give them a kiss every day."