Submitted by Vlad’s mother, June Katynski

What you need to know about Vlad

Vlad’s senior photo

My son was born in Russia. He was abandoned at a train station when he was 6 years old by his drug-addicted mother. He had tuberculosis and was in the hospital for a year, then was taken to a Russian military orphanage. He was brought to the United States when he was 10 by a couple who was trafficking him and another little boy. Their plan was thwarted, and the boys ended up in state custody. We heard that the state was looking for a temporary placement for them. That was when the Lord brought these two little Russian boys to us.

The first time we saw Vlad

I was standing on the top of the steps in our house when he was brought in our front door. He looked up at me with these two blue eyes and two big dimples and a big smile. I was immediately in love from that first look. We adopted them nine months later.

His early years in America

Vlad hadn’t had any stability, any security in his life. When he came to us, he didn’t have any belief that we would be a permanent family. He wanted to do everything perfect with us so that we would want to keep him. It was as if he were walking a tightrope. He didn’t speak a word of English, but he and his brother were brilliant academically. Vlad was making A’s in honors courses in 10th grade.

Vlad with his sister Amber

What he loved

He adored his four older sisters, and they adored him. We always said that when he came to us, he got five mommies.

Being in Florida, he fell in love with wakeboarding. We took him once, and it became his passion. He liked the freedom of being out there on the water, competing against himself, trying to do tricks like somersaults in the air, better each time. He would stay there as long as you let him.

How we knew something was wrong

Vlad might have been born addicted. I think 90 percent of his addiction was due to his past. I took him to the doctor soon after he came to us, and he smelled the hand sanitizer in a bottle there. Vlad says “That is vodka. I drink vodka.” He was 10! So I think that propensity was there from when he was little.

We really didn’t have any issues until the 10th grade, when he started self-medicating. One of the first things: Three of my children had had their wisdom teeth out at the same time, and I had stuck the three bottles of pain medications in the fridge. He told me he had taken them all.

On the last day of 10th grade, we had to ask him to leave our home. He went to a rehab program in Georgia but left after one week and robbed a house. That began a three-year journey of six rehab attempts and jail.

He found hope in God

Vlad wakeboarding

He was in his last stint in jail, in Georgia. He spent his last 30 days in “the hole,” solitary confinement. The only thing in there with him was a Bible. He found God there, and with that, he found hope.

When he came back to us, he was in such a great place. He was determined he was going to beat this addiction. He had earned his GED, and his sister Amber took him to this great photo shoot so he would have a senior picture like the other kids. The Lord was so generous to give us this window of time with him. He was clean. He was sober.

How he died

He went to a center in Florida to continue his recovery and was doing well — until a dump truck ran over his feet at a job site. That was the downfall. He couldn’t work, which was a requirement of the program, so he came home. And then he made some bad choices. He left our home and was living with three college students. We believe he died because his drug dealer overdosed him on fentanyl on purpose because Vlad owed him money. One of his associates told us that after he died.

How Vlad would want to be remembered

He believed in himself as an entrepreneur — he was very creative in the business sense. We would tell him, if only he could use that gift in a legal way, he’d be on top of the world! When he was young, I would buy him a bag of Smarties candy at Walmart and he’d go to school and sell them for a quarter a piece. Later, we’d say, if you can get to that point of healing, someday you are going to own your own business.

If I could say one thing to Vlad, it would be

I miss him. I’d tell him I love him. I’m proud of him. We told him that always, but he didn’t have self-love. Or maybe he did but just couldn’t overcome the pain of the past.

Heroes Against Heroin

After Vlad died, I spoke to a group in Orlando, Heroes Against Heroin. I believe they will use parts of the video we filmed in their work educating people about opioid abuse. I talked with them about Vlad, but I also told them I was glad they are gathering everybody — the community, the government, the schools, the police, the hospitals, the community that has lost loved ones, rich and poor, spiritual and non, to bring us all together to find an answer. It’s the first thing that has given me hope that all of us, putting our minds and our hope together, that we can find answers, that we can be an encouragement to one another, that we are not alone.