HEART OF CHICAGO — Lou Miceli watched his son transform from an outgoing high school football player into a desperate heroin addict who stole from his parents’ home.
Then last August, after four months in rehab, 24-year-old Louie Miceli died from a heroin overdose.
“I’ll never get past it, I can tell you that. To lose a child, it’s the worst thing in the world,” the Oakley Street deli owner said through tears.
Several weeks after his son’s death, the family created the LTM Heroin Awareness and Support Foundation in Louie's honor. The organization gathers donations for young people who can’t afford treatment for heroin addiction and to raise awareness about the drug’s detrimental properties.
Miceli's has been a neighborhood lunch spot for 33 years. Now, when customers step to the left after ordering a sandwich, they'll see a back wall covered with photos of Louie alongside the family.
Once every two weeks, the Miceli family reunites to fundraise. They’ve told Louie Miceli’s story at suburban high schools and created a Facebook page to spark a dialog about the devastating effects of heroin addiction. On June 8, they raised $29,000 through a midnight bowl at the Stardust Bowl in Addison.
Kristen Gutierrez, Miceli’s 43-year-old daughter, said just talking about addiction can be helpful for many who’ve had lives ruined by the drug.
“We knew we had to be bold and step up to heroin,” Gutierrez said. “Being ashamed of it allows it to continue. If heroin crosses your path, run like hell and don’t look back.”
On Aug. 7, 2012, Gutierrez said her brother was home from rehab and clean for almost five months. After his parents left for dinner, Louie Miceli took the same amount of heroin that he would’ve as a user, but overdosed when his body couldn’t handle the drug, Gutierrez said.
His body was found by his 23-year-old brother, Vincent “Vinny” Miceli, who is now going through his own rehabilitation for heroin use.
Lou Miceli said his son is recovering. Vincent Miceli has been sober since his brother’s death and is currently going through rehab in Pennsylvania, with plans to move back to Chicago in the near future.
Looking forward, Kristen Gutierrez said the foundation would continue speaking at high schools and is also planning a Heroin Awareness Walk-A-Thon on Sept. 29 at Lakeview Park in Bloomingdale.
For Gutierrez, who was 18 when her half-brother Louie was born, the loss has been overwhelming.
“It’s devastating,” she said. “If you have any siblings, just imagine them gone. I know my brother believes in heaven. I’ll see him there.”