New teeth, new life for fast food heroin user

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When Target 8 first introduced West Michigan to Tyler Trowbridge, he was homeless and shooting up drugs in a fast food bathroom.

What’s happened since is nothing short of inspirational. The community has embraced and supported Trowbridge in ways no one could have predicted.

The latest life-changing gift: new teeth, courtesy of two generous members of the dental profession.

“The dental community is very well aware of the opioid crisis and what’s going on,” said Dr. Jake Miller, who has a practice off 5 Mile Road east of Plainfield Avenue north of Grand Rapids.

Miller said two people who had heard Trowbridge’s story reached out to him separately about donating dental work.

“They asked me if I wanted to get involved, and it was easy to say yes,” Miller recalled. “I was excited to (do it).”

Miller recruited Dr. Mark Jesin, an oral surgeon with his own practice nearby, to extract six of Trowbridge’s decaying teeth. Both men worked on Trowbridge’s mouth for free.

“He’s in so much pain from his teeth,” Jesin remarked. “It really hit home and tugged at my heart seeing him in that pain. How can he maintain being clean and being in recovery when he’s in constant pain with his teeth?”

Because of Trowbridge’s addiction history and his commitment to recovery, Jesin used only nonopioid pain relievers, including laughing gas, numbing jelly, ibuprofen, acetaminophen and a new post-surgery medication called Exparel.

“Exparel is a pain medication that is actually administered right into the surgical site at the end of the procedure,” Jesin explained. “It slowly releases pain medication right at the surgery site over the course of three or four days, and it helps to minimize or completely avoid the use of opioids in the postoperative period.”

THE GIFT OF SMILE

After the extraction procedure and several days of swollen recovery, Trowbridge returned to Miller’s office to be fitted with a removable partial denture, which was donated by Heritage Dental Laboratory of Grand Rapids.

Eventually, Miller and Jesin hope to give Trowbridge permanent implants, but it will take some time before his mouth is healthy enough for that.

“Doesn’t it look really good?” Trowbridge asked, pointing to his new temporary front teeth. “They fit perfectly, too. … It’s amazing that I didn’t know them at all and they volunteered their time and staff and like, just, embraced me. Just to help me out. It’s awesome.”

Miller and Jesin, humble, downplayed their contributions.

“It doesn’t feel like much. But I think that’s the way it is for everyone who’s gotten involved with this. It’s great to be a part of it, and it feels like nothing,” Miller said.

“I just feel privileged to be a small part,” Jesin echoed. “I’ve been following along and to see how many people have come out to help him. … This is something that that I can do to be part of his recovery and help him out.”

Trowbridge, who was tired of hiding his teeth, is certain his new smile will make a huge difference in how people view him.

“People judge you by your appearance,” he said. “I want to help people, and I think the better I look, the more people will take me seriously in what I want to accomplish.”

EIGHT STRAIGHT WEEKS CLEAN

The 34-year-old has big plans now that he’s clean.

Despite one slip-up early on, as of Monday, Trowbridge was eight weeks clean from the heroin that ruled his life for 15 years.

“I want to put that behind me,” Trowbridge told Target 8. “I don’t ever plan on going back. It’s time to move forward and start a different life.”

The staff at Cherry Health’s Southside Health Center said Trowbridge is off to a solid start.

“Tyler has really made great progress,” said social worker Erica Bradley, the clinical director at the Southside clinic.

Trowbridge gets his daily dose of methadone, as well as mandatory drug testing, therapy and doctor check-ins, at Southside. Methadone maintenance therapy reduces painful withdrawal symptoms and stabilizes brain chemistry hijacked by long-term drug use.

“His drug screens have been great. He’s been testing negative,” Bradley said.

She only wishes the clinic’s other 1,000 clients had the kind of support Trowbridge now does.

“To have that level of support for a client, it really is helping to set him up for success,” she said.

Bradley noted that in order to achieve long-term recovery, a client must have not only the desire and will to quit but also access to housing, food and a new environment away from old habits and triggers.

THE POWER OF COMMUNITY

Incredibly, with the help of a tireless high school classmate, Trowbridge found a landlord who was willing to take a chance and rent to a recovering heroin user.

That same determined classmate, Stacy Peck, also found painting and construction work for Trowbridge through her brother-in-law’s company.

When Target 8 first profiled Trowbridge, Peck quickly recognized him as an old classmate, a fellow member of Grant High School’s class of 2003. Peck wasn’t close to Trowbridge in high school, but she knew he was a good classmate with a kind heart.

The Forest Hills wife and mom reached out to others in their graduating class, started a GoFundMe page and later a blog. She reconnected with Trowbridge, got him off the street and back on to medication-assisted treatment.

Other classmates concur and have left dozens of encouraging messages on the GoFundMe page.

“Tyler, there are so many lives that you have touched,” wrote one poster.

“You probably don’t even realize. We all want to see you succeed. You can do this. We all believe you can. You’ve got an army behind you supporting you in this journey,” another wrote.

The support went far beyond kind words. As of Monday, the GoFundMe had raised $5,925.

In addition to the funds, which are controlled solely by Peck, old classmates and strangers alike have donated household items, rides to the methadone clinic and even their own precious time, hanging out with Trowbridge just to help him stay busy.

“HE’S GOING TO HELP COUNTLESS PEOPLE”

Trowbridge is keeping himself occupied, too. He’s connecting with members of the recovery community, as well as families who have lost children to opioids, helping them find ways to honor their loved ones.

He plans to put his firsthand perspective on rehab to good use. He’s already sharing his insight on what works and what doesn’t.

Additionally, the hope is that Trowbridge’s personal story will inspire others who are struggling with opioid addiction.

“We’re going to help him,” Peck explained, “and then he’s going to help countless people because they’re going to see how successful he is and what a great guy he is, and they’re to go, ‘OK, maybe I can come from being homeless and maybe I can do something like that.’”

But first, it’s critical that Trowbridge continue to focus on his own recovery.

“Sometimes I worry that he makes it look easy,” Stacy Peck wrote in her blog. “It isn’t easy… if it were easy, we would have people getting clean instead of filling our emergency rooms and morgues.”

To hold himself accountable, Trowbridge signed a consent form to give Peck direct access to his test results at the clinic.

He often texts Peck to work through sudden urges to use. 

“I just caught myself sizing up my veins,” wrote Trowbridge in one text.

“Tyler faces obstacles to staying clean every single day,” Peck said. “He is putting in hard work and fighting every day to not use, to create new healthy habits, to do an awesome job at work, and fight through the urges to use that hit him out of nowhere.”

If you want to contact Trowbridge or the organizers who are helping to coordinate volunteer efforts, you can send an email to stacypeckmi@gmail.com.

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