Pain and promise

By Randy Grider
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When I first talked to Jack Bridges, a trucker from Cape Girardeau, Mo., I was captivated by his candidness and sincerity. Then, after seeing the trailer to a documentary about his son Shawn Bridges, a former truck driver ravaged by methamphetamine addiction, I was shocked, humbled and moved by the experience.

Shawn is currently bedridden in a room of his dad’s duplex. He is fed by a stomach tube that pumps life-sustaining nutrients into his body. His speech is mostly slurred – occasionally a string of words are coherent. He has had three heart attacks resulting in only half of the blood-circulating organ working. He has died twice only to be shocked back to life by doctors. He has severe diabetes.

Down from his healthy weight of more than 200 pounds to his current 130 pounds, the 34-year-old casts a haunting impression – a dead man who doesn’t know he not supposed to be alive.

Shawn’s against-all-odds survival to this point, which has surprised his doctors, gives credence to faith, hope and willpower. Still, the people personally involved in Shawn’s life-and-death struggle are not kidding themselves. They know he is dying from the effects of abuse and overuse of meth.

An Illinois videographer has chronicled Shawn’s story in a 29-minute documentary called No More Sunsets. The film shows doctors using defibrillators in January to bring him back to life. It captures the day-to-day world of a man whose past mistakes have imprisoned him in a nightmare. It’s graphic, sometimes morbid and very real.

But Chip Rossetti, who produced the documentary, isn’t exploiting a tragedy for shock value or the almighty dollar. The film wasn’t even his idea. It was Shawn’s.

Before his latest setback, Shawn, who has been struggling with health problems stemming from meth since he was 26, asked family members and a minister to help him find someone to document his ordeal. His hope was to discourage others from choosing the road he has taken.

“It’s all Shawn,” his dad says. “This is what he wanted to do. He wanted to get the word out about what drugs can do to you.

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“It’s not a trucking problem, but there is a problem with truckers and meth just like in any other profession. Doctors, lawyers, construction workers and truckers and so on. It’s tearing at the fabric of our country.”

Jack believes the meth problem in the trucking industry is a little lower percentage-wise compared to the general population. This is due to safeguards like random drug testing by most trucking companies.

The Bridges’ hope is to help not only truckers, but everyone and anyone who will listen (and watch) their story. “Since Shawn’s story ran on the Associated Press, the response has been great,” Jack says. Rossetti agrees. He said he has gotten interest in the documentary from law enforcement, schools and rehab programs. A Washington state public access television station is interested. It’s also available through his website.

As for a Shawn’s addiction, his dad pulls no punches. His son’s ordeal has been emotionally, psychologically and financially devastating to the family. “What he did was wrong,” Jack says. “He did it to himself, but it also affects the family. Shawn lied to me. Addicts are perfect liars. He lied to himself and he lied to his family about doing drugs.”

But there’s no doubt that Jack loves his son despite Shawn’s shortcomings. And, despite his gloomy prognosis, Jack retains faith in God and Shawn’s will. “I have faith that he will get better and be able to tell his story in his own words,” Jack says. “I know he’s living on borrowed time, but I’m an optimist and my son’s going to live forever in my mind.”

So Jack waits by his son’s bedside, praying against conventional wisdom that the final chapter of his son’s life will have a happy ending.

If Shawn’s story saves someone from choosing meth, maybe it will.