‘Terrified Tonya’

By on January 2, 2019

“No! Don’t leave me for dead! I’m still alive!” Tonya silently screamed to her drug ‘friends’ as they walked out and left her laying on her cold, tile apartment floor in Quarryville, to die.

“No! Don’t leave me for dead! I’m alive in here!” Tonya silently screamed as the doctors searched for a nursing home to transfer her to die in.

Tonya’s story began like many other addiction stories. She broke her jaw and was prescribed Vicodin and Percocet when she was 21. When her doctors stopped prescribing them, she turned to the streets. After they weren’t getting her the desired high, she moved on to Oxycontin.

When that wasn’t enough, she decided to try heroin, but only one time. She never thought she’d be hooked on heroin after using it once, but she did.

On Jan. 1, 2012, her New Year’s Day plans went terribly wrong. After her drug “friends” had walked out on her she laid motionless on the cold floor for three days. Wearing the same pink shirt and tattered jeans, the maintenance man found her after her family reported her unanswered texts and calls.

Tonya’s life today is very different, it’s filled with contentment, gratefulness and happiness. Tonya, right, with Adriane, the nurse who was convinced Tonya would come out of her coma cause by 2012 New Year’s Day overdose.

As the medics and her family arrived, she had turned blue and was frothing foam from her mouth while covered in her own feces and urine. Her sister noticed a large amount of blood on her jeans and wanted to quickly change them for her but there was too much blood saturating them.

As oxygen was delivered, she opened her eyes, staring at her sister. Wanting to thank her for getting rid of the drugs that Tonya had hidden on top of the mirror and in her closet, Tonya realized she couldn’t talk. She couldn’t move.

She had no weight, no inertia, no worry, nothing. Tonya drifted into a deep coma where she remained for 31 days. Unresponsive, she was on a breathing machine, had a tracheostomy inserted and was fed through her veins. Her brain scan revealed total white matter and she was deemed to either die or be a “vegetable” forever. The human brain is fragile. There are layers of consciousness to wade through. Massive quantities of drugs and alcohol in your system disrupts neuron functions.

The depth of human relationships is determined largely by communication.

Tonya couldn’t communicate. But she could pray.

While delirious and powerless, only in darkness could she see stars. She saw a Christmas tree through a gap in the yellow curtains. She saw a graveyard with all the tombstones askew. There were angels and demons.

Tonya, recovering in the hospital, said her family and her care nurse, Adriane, saw “hope and light, despite all the darkness.”

Flashes of light blinded her by the doctors and nurses using their pen lights to gauge her reactions, or lack of. She knew that her family was there but why didn’t they stop Santa from coming in and taking her nachos!

She heard every word that was said. It was like looking at things through a stained-glass window. Her family and friends started a Facebook page, “Tonya Prayer Page,” where they posted prayers, positive thoughts, and well wishes.

After weeks of her being unresponsive, laying in what she felt was a horrid green gown, the doctors started searching for a nursing home to place her in to die.
Again, she silently screamed, “NO! I’m in here! Please help me!”

During these long weeks, one nurse, Adriane, had noticed that after she moistened Tonya’s lips, Tonya would continue licking them. Adriane started asking her to stick her tongue out if she wanted her lips moistened.

Whenever Adriane walked in the room Tonya would lick her lips. One day, with her mother by her since day one, Tonya stuck her tongue out when the nurse walked in! Adriane asked her to do it again and she did! Her mother mentioned that she had been pushing her pulse ox off her finger, too. Rushing to the medical team to proclaim the great news and beg for a rehab rather than a nursing home, the nurse was shot down again. It was a reflex reaction, they said. Nothing more. Despite their responses, Adriane began searching on her own for a rehab. Not one, in and outside of Pennsylvania, would even come and evaluate her. After endless days of begging, one rehab finally said yes.

When she was told the news, Tonya came alive! She opened her eyes and squeezed hands. Finally, the ventilator and sedation came off. Tonya’s mom and Adriane were in the room when she woke up. She smiled! Then she said, “I want a cherry slushy.” Her mother introduced her to her nurse. But Tonya already knew her. She had been inside her the entire time.

Adriane wrote “Tonya knew who I was. I had refused to give up on her. Tonya’s story is NOT medically explainable. It’s nothing short of a miracle.

She really should have died. God spared her life as she has so much more to do here.

I refused to believe, as I turned her limp body, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, that there was no one in there. I saw a perfectly made body in that bed. One formed by God in His perfect image. He had plans for her.”

Tonya entered rehab and with much determination and hard work she was able to transfer to a wheel chair. Using a walker, she attempted walking down a hallway which was bizarrely hard considering she needed to use so much of her brain and muscles.

The hallway seemed endless, filled with arduous obstacles, but she made it! After moving to a relatively normal apartment in Ephrata, this miracle child gave birth to her son, her miracle boy. She continues therapy twice a week now, using a cane or walker.

Doctors described Tonya’s drug recovery story as a miracle. However, she notes, Not all stories have “miracle endings.”

Her goal is to walk again, normally. She’s an amazing mother to an amazing son. While crises of faith are sometimes inevitable, after entering her recovery, seven years ago, Tonya never experienced one. Her faith is strong. As she patiently watched with glistened eyes, God worked miracles through her.

With His infinite goodness and patience, the mountains gradually emerged from the ground.

Hope is a waking dream. Don’t stop in your storm. Tonya, her family and Adriane all saw hope and light, despite all the darkness. Faith and wisdom had taught them to remain patient. Tonya’s life today is very different, it’s filled with contentment, gratefulness and happiness.

However, she still harbors some wants. She wants to return to the ICU and see her nurses. She wants to show her doctors how far she’s come.

Silently, she wants to scream “I told you so!”

While Tonya is truly a miracle, she wants others to listen as she silently screams “Don’t do drugs! Not all stories have miracle endings.”

Tonya’s story is written by Janice Ballenger who works at Retreat at Lancaster County, a 175-bed inpatient facility in Ephrata for addiction treatment. She has a burning passion to raise awareness to addiction, while offering hope to the families and friends of those in recovery. 


  1. Melissa Reem

    January 5, 2019 at 10:36 am

    This story truly is a miracle! I love hearing/reading stories like this that have a happy ending, unfortunately for a lot of others it doesn’t end as a miracle like Tonya’s did. I’m sure that quite a few people that read this story can relate in one way or another, whether it being a friend or family… a lot of times a spouse or children. I understand that some people are “sick and tired” of hearing stories like this and that we all just “deserve to die” and “it was our choice”, but most of these addicts became addicted through a DOCTOR PRESCRIBED prescription. Others became addicted after not having the proper counseling after experiencing bad situations or death. Addiction does not discriminate, it could be your doctor, teacher, best friend and you would have NO IDEA, as it is one of the easiest addictions to hide, or until the person becomes visibly ill or often sick. If this story touched you in any way like it did me, please share, as it could help someone you may never even realize who has an addiction get help. Let’s keep raising awareness and beat this demon together! Also, most importantly, I want to thank Tonya for sharing her story, and Janice for writing this beautiful piece! She is such an amazing writer! I look forward to seeing more of her writing as it is one of the only reasons I read this paper.

    • Janice Ballenger

      January 14, 2019 at 8:22 pm

      Thank you so very much, Melissa! Your words will be appreciated by all.

  2. Melissa Reem

    January 6, 2019 at 11:38 am

    Whether you have directly dealt with addiction or not, this story about Tonya is truly touching and proves a miracle can happen at any time! We should share more stories on this topic to not only bring awareness, but to show people that these types of incidents happen every day. Unfortunately not everyone’s story ends as lucky as Tonya’s did. Addiction does NOT discriminate, it could be anyone from your nice neighbor, your teacher, doctor, boss, the list goes on. The overdose rates are climbing WAY too quickly and it’s constantly put on the back burner and everyone just turns there heads until it’s someone they love. I wanna see more stories in the paper about addiction awareness. Even if this story saves only one life, then it did it’s purpose. I love reading Janice’s stories and I hope to see more from her! Good job Ephrata Review & Janice on posting this miracle story, I’m sure it gives someone out there hope!

  3. Michael white

    February 12, 2019 at 8:51 am

    Janice thank you so much for writing such a wonderful story on this young miracle in recovery. To the medical professionals that never gave up on Tonya thank you so much. She is truly a miracle she is a wonderful mother she is a wonderful person she is a wonderful friend to so many. Again thank you for saving Tonya.
    Tonya you are a amazing woman, mother, friend and a inspiration to so many people including myself. You prove that recovery does work if you want it. Keep doing what you are doing as I am sure you will. I am so glad that I have met you and have had the chance to hear your journey to recovery. God bless you Tonya

    • Janice Ballenger

      February 26, 2019 at 4:14 pm

      Thank you Michael, I’m certain your comments are appreciated.

  4. Janet Fisher

    April 4, 2019 at 10:52 am

    Hi janice. A+, this story touched my heart. I also almost lost my son to addiction. For years I fought for help. I went to doctors ( I hate to say this, but several doctors were giving him the drugs. He would fake pain and even though I worked at a telephone answering service and I begged the doctor to stop, he told me to get a life and hung up on me. These doctors are no longer here.)I went to all the Panda meetings. No help. I tried everything, turned everywhere for help. You want to know what hurt the worst! No one woukd help me.They said if he doesn’t want the help, it won’t work. Then when he got worse, they said, lady you should have done something with that kid. Now my son is drug free and he also has God as his father and Praise the Lord he is drug free. Thank you Lord Jesus. Amen. He also has a wife who loves him and stuck be him. PTL. I will be praying for this young lady.
    I am totally happy for her and her son. Gid loves you and so do I.1 Janet L. Fisher.

  5. Janice Ballenger

    April 30, 2019 at 3:28 pm

    Janet, I’m so glad your son is still with us. Addiction can get a fierce grip on it’s victims. Thank you for your kind words.

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