CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - A Cleveland family is heartbroken as heroin takes the life of a wife and mother of three weeks after she walked away from her rehab center.
Deep down, David Gayle said he always feared he'd get a phone call with the news his wife, Stephanie Gayle, had died. That call came this week.
He said his wife had been using heroin on and off for more than a decade.
"(My kids) know mommy was sick using drugs, but they don't know the extent of it," David Gayle said.
Stephanie Gayle struggled with addiction, but her husband said she worked to get clean. She stayed sober for seven years, but began using again after having the couple's youngest son.
"When you're actively using and addicted, we forget who we are, we forget the people who love us," David Gayle said.
She spent years in and out of rehab centers. Cleveland 19 News first spoke with her husband after she had run away from Oriana House. In February, he was heartbroken because he didn't know where she was.
"I got emotional and broke down because I thought about my children," he said.
Two months later, his heartbreak hasn't gone away. Now, it's just in a different form.
Stephanie Gayle overdosed this past weekend and died Tuesday.
"I have a feeling in me that she's in a better place, even though she's not here today, knowing she's in a better place and not suffering anymore," her husband said.
Rather than think about the pain, he said he plans to remember the family's good times together.
"We have memories and those memories don't go away. They're implanted in your heart. They're there forever," he said.
David Gayle said he's relieved his kids don't have to worry about where their mom is any longer.
"I know she's in a safe spot. She's my children's angel," he said.
According to the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner, so far in 2017 more than 140 people died from heroin, fentanyl, or a combination of the two. Those numbers don't include April overdose deaths, which will be released in the coming weeks.
Studies show a heroin addict has a 90 percent chance of a relapse within the first three months of getting clean and a 50 percent chance of doing heroin again after a long-term rehab treatment. The biggest reason a relapse occurs is because of a stressful life event.