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Addiction weighs on whole family, says Vallas, whose late son had opioid problem

Paul Vallas and his sons, Mark, Gus and Paul Jr. | Provided photo

In the end, it’s never the end.

On Feb. 26, mayoral candidate Paul Vallas will head into a voting booth armed with hopes he will make the cut to govern Chicago.

But it will also come right after the first anniversary of the death of his youngest son, Mark, a 24-year-old who died Feb. 24 while battling an addiction to opioids.

“Mark died clean; he had left rehab and was living in a group home,” said Vallas. “He took a nap and never woke up,” said Vallas, one of 14 candidates running for mayor.

“My son’s long-term addiction had devastating effects on his health and he died of an enlarged heart,” added Vallas, who has — up until now — been silent about the day he lost one of his three boys — two of whom are police officers and former U.S. Marines.

“I lost Mark and I didn’t like talking about it because it’s hard — and I didn’t want it to seem like a political thing,” said Vallas. “Addiction doesn’t just break down the body; it breaks families down.”

Then last week, Vallas, who is of Greek descent, told the GreekReporter news service his son’s death “made me more determined to run for public office.”

That was it.

OPINION

In an exclusive phone interview with Sneed, Vallas finally opened up about the loss of Mark, who had battled addiction since high school.

“Mark went through maybe 20 rehab and recovery clinics to help him cope, but think of how tragic it is for people who can’t afford access to that help,” he added.

“So many families are impacted by this scourge. So many families suffering. It’s like the Great Plague from the Middle Ages. The disease doesn’t discriminate. Race and ethnicity doesn’t matter; neither whether you are poor or your income level. It impacts across the board.

“Just look at the statistics. The number of opioid addiction overdoses I believe rivals the 581 murders in Chicago in 2016!

“It’s a major issue that needs to be addressed and it’s a non-partisan issue.”

Mark Vallas. | Provided photo

Looking back, Vallas claims it was unexpected annotations found written in his son’s Bible; a bucketful of old movie ticket stubs found among his belongings; and the memory of a coat given away by Mark to a homeless man on skid row that introduced him to his son in a new way.

“It’s the small, obscure things that bring Mark back to me,” Vallas said.

“Our children are much deeper than we realize,” he added. “But I never fully knew who he was until I went through the notebooks he kept during recovery.

“Now I think of Mark when I go to the movies,” said Vallas. “I always took my three boys to the movies every Friday — especially Mark, because he was the youngest. It seems like most of the ticket stubs he stowed were for movies he had seen with me — except for the last movie he saw: “Black Panther.”

“We are all built differently and wired differently; our eldest son, Paul, a police officer in Wheeling, came home from service as a combat medic in Afghanistan and threw all the pills he had been given for his injuries into the garbage because he didn’t want to wind up self-medicating.

“I’d have to have gone through this myself to understand his pain and suffering. So I’ve been pretty private and reluctant to talk about it, but I’m talking about it now.”

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Vallas also says Mark’s attempt at humor was a way to cover his pain and suffering.

“I realize that now,” he said. “I was always trying to rationalize what was happening, always willing to try another program. Mark was with me in Haiti when he worked with Sean Penn’s CORE group following the earthquake. He was with me all the time. Even then … parents can be much too busy and preoccupied helping others.”

Vallas said the last time he saw his son was about a week before he died.

“Mark had kept his own Bible and connected psalms to suffering and courage and salvation, which revealed a depth that was new to us. His acknowledgement of his struggle, the pain and suffering he was going through — as well as causing pain to those of us who loved him.

“He had not communicated that to us.”

Vallas said his wife, Sharon, “is a strong woman and has her own Bible, which she keeps in her dresser. It’s the family Bible.

“But Mark’s Bible is in the dresser now.”

Button up, Bill . . .

Sneed is told old campaign buttons emblazoned with the name of former Mayor Richard Daley were passed out at Plumbers Union Hall, when mayoral hopeful Bill Daley showed up to accept their endorsement after ditching a FOX TV debate at the last minute Thursday night. But organizers weren’t sure if the antique buttons were made for the current candidate’s brother or their late father.

Provided photo

Provided photo

Sneedlings . . .

Congrats to activist priest the Rev. Michael Pfleger, who will  receive the Frederick Douglass Abolitionist Award from the American University on Feb. 14 at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. He will be honored at a celebration of what would have been Douglass’ 200th birthday, for his work embodying social change. . . . Watch for U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia to endorse Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) for city treasurer. . . . I spy: Actors Kelsey Grammer and Russell Hornsby spotted at Gibsons on Rush recently. . . . Actress Bonnie Hunt, Blackhawks Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews dining at RPM Italian. . . . Congratulations to Alexandra Moulton on her engagement to Robert Nelson. . . .  Saturday’s birthdays: Michael B. Jordan, 32; Carole King, 77; and Tom Hiddleston, 38. . . . Sunday’s birthdays: Emma Roberts, 28; Don Omar, 41; and Chloe Grace Moretz, 22.