Life fulfilled for greater purpose
Dakota was a happy-go-lucky person, bubbly and cheerful with a contagious laugh and a smile that drew you in. She was a prankster, loving to catch people off guard, like hiding under the bed and grabbing someone’s ankle as they were climbing into bed. Paradoxically, she suffered from anxiety, depression, and low self-worth, silently trying to cope with it on her own.
Dakota was always responsible; never missing school or work. She got good grades, kept her curfew and went to church. Family and animals were the most important things to Dakota. Her cousin Meredith was her closest friend; they were always together, playing games, riding bikes, and sharing vacations. Dakota was passionate about rescuing animals, especially cats.
Dakota volunteered as an EMS cadet, where she rode along in the ambulance observing emergency situations first hand and learning life saving skills. She liked nature and animal photography and had an expert eye, capturing her subjects perfectly. After high school, she completed all the pre-requisites to enroll in the radiography program at a local community college. While waiting for an opening in the program, she also took cosmetology classes and worked 30 hours a week. Her goals were to get a full-time job in a hospital as a Radiologic Technologist and buy a home.
After a breakup with her boyfriend, Dakota was offered a Xanax to help suppress the anxiety she was feeling. She liked the feeling of numbness and said: “for once I wasn’t worrying about anything.” Her mother said: “From the Xanax, she went to Oxycodone and Percocet. When those pills became too expensive for her, she started buying Heroin.” As her addiction progressed, Dakota still came home at night and maintained her responsibilities, but became less interested in family events and her goals; her focus was mostly on drugs and how to get them. She went to rehab, helping many people while she was there, but eventually her illness won out.
Her mother, Danette says, “I was not educated enough about opioid addiction. I made a promise to Dakota after she died that I would educate myself and use her story and mine to help others that are struggling with addiction.” Danette is now a member of the JoCo Angels, a non-profit organization that provides education and peer support around substance use issues. She visits public schools and shares her story. “Dakota’s life fulfilled a greater purpose,” Danette says, “Her story has touched and potentially saved so many people. She was meant to do great things, I just wish that she had believed in herself and felt she was worthy enough to do them when she was alive.”
Dakota’s mother, Danette Jernigan, provided the information for this narrative.
August 10, 1996-May 23, 2019
Age 22- Lived with addiction 3 years