Photo Caption: From left, Kim Carlson, who established A Fresh Start Endowment through the WCA Foundation in memory of her son, Alex, is pictured with Erika Remington, RN (right), UPMC Chautauqua Outpatient Nurse Coordinator II.  A newly established program at UPMC Chautauqua Behavioral Health Services supported by the Fresh Start endowment, covers medications for patients until their insurance coverage begins to pay.  To donate to the fund, visit

By Linda Johnson, Donor Specialist, WCA Foundation, Inc.

Kim Carlson fondly remembers Alex’s childhood, filled with laughter, dreams, and boundless potential.  Born in the transitional month of October that heralds the arrival of autumn, Alex was the youngest of two children.  Kim describes her son as a bright, compassionate, and soft-hearted young man bursting with curiosity about the world around him.  “He was a happy little child,” Kim said. “A bundle of youthful energy and curiosity, he did all the things that little people do, and held a genuine tenderness and nurturing demeanor towards people and animals.  Alex had these charming dimples and a sweet infectious smile that had a magical way of getting him out of trouble!”  The world was Alex’s playground, and Kim revealed that his heart was full of dreams and possibilities that embodied the pure joy and potential of childhood.  With a loving and supportive family, Alex had everything he needed to flourish.

The Struggle Begins

During his childhood and adolescent years, Alex embraced an athletic lifestyle that became an integral part of his daily routine and identity.  Kim describes a young boy who loved sports.  “His eyes would light up at the mere mention of hockey and his face would break into that visible expression of joy every time he stepped onto the hockey rink,” said Kim. 

While he had a passion for sports, navigating school posed more challenging for Alex.  “We discovered Alex had a learning disorder called dyslexia which hampered his ability to recognize sounds properly and inhibited his capability to read and write,” said Kim.  “When you are affected by this disorder, nothing comes easy, and he struggled throughout his entire life due to dyslexia.  As concerned parents, we swiftly put recommended measures into place that would help Alex, including prescribed medication for attention deficit disorder, a common approach within the realm of medicine at that time.  In hindsight, it turned out to be a poor choice for Alex.  At the time, I believed that giving my son medication was the right decision for the right reasons.  Regrettably, looking back, I realize it may not have been the best decision for Alex.”

As Alex entered the latter stages of adolescence into adulthood, Kim noticed subtle changes in his behavior.  Concerned, she attempted to approach him about her worries, only to be met with some resistance and denial.  Little did she know, Alex had fallen into the clutches of drug addiction.  “I was watching my son deteriorate before my very eyes,” Kim said with her eyes filled with tears. 

Kim’s worst fears were realized as Alex’s addiction worsened.  He became entangled in a dangerous web of substance abuse, leading him down a destructive path.  Shock and disbelief flooded her as she realized her child was battling addiction.  Kim’s once bright and cheery son was a shadow of his former self, trapped in the relentless grip of chemical dependency.

Overwhelmed with a mix of emotions ranging from fear to concern, Kim knew that immediate action was crucial.  Fueled by unconditional love, Kim embarked on a relentless quest to save her son from the clutches of addiction.  “He had a very difficult time shaking off the addiction of drugs and I was determined to be his advocate,” Kim said with a determination in her voice that only a parent recognizes.  She sought out treatment programs, counseling, education, and a strong network of support to navigate the difficult path ahead.  Each glimmer of hope was often dashed by heartbreaking setbacks as Alex’s addiction seemed insurmountable.  “I felt somewhat safe because Alex was petrified of needles, and I found some comfort in believing that he wasn’t putting a needle in his arm,” said Kim.  “Little did I know at the time that he could actually smoke the stuff.”  As days turned into weeks and then months, Kim’s dedication never wavered.  She became a pillar of strength for her only son.  “I talked to Alex every day,” Kim said.  “His condition wasn’t without its setbacks, but I was determined to become a driving force in his progress.  Through Alex’s struggles, we discovered a closeness, a bond between us that emerged stronger in the face of this dreadful disease.”  Alex was resiliently managing his addiction while remaining dedicated to a job he loved passionately during his recovery years.  “He loved his job,” said Kim.  “He loved those kids.”

The Devastating Loss

After years of battling drug addiction, tragedy struck Kim’s family.  At 26 years of age, Alex lost his life to a drug overdose on February 26, 2016.  With a somber, heart-wrenching tone in her voice, Kim shared, “I remember his last words to me, ‘I love you mama’ and I quickly conveyed I love you too Alex.  That was the very last time I ever talked to him.”  The news shattered Kim’s world, leaving her with a void that could never be filled.  Her pain was palpable.  Grief consumed her, but through the pain, Kim found the strength to share her story, hoping to prevent others from experiencing a similar fate.  

A Fresh Start

In the wake of her son’s passing, Kim became an advocate for addiction awareness, recovery, and prevention.  She channeled her pain into action, tirelessly working to fund A Fresh Start Endowment through the WCA Foundation.  The fund was established to provide encouragement and support through personal experiences for those with chemical dependency in loving memory of her son, Alex.  The establishment of the endowment serves as an inspiration to others who may be facing similar challenges.  It’s a reminder that even in the darkest moments, love, hope, and support can guide us through the toughest of trials.

The Legacy of Love

Kim’s love for her son and her determination to bring about change has had a profound impact.  Through her efforts, she has touched the lives of countless individuals battling addiction and their families at UPMC Chautauqua, providing a glimmer of hope amidst the darkness.  Kim’s story serves as a reminder that behind every devastating loss, are real lives, real families, and real pain.  Kim Carlson’s journey through her son’s addiction and subsequent loss is an agonizing reminder of the devastating consequences of addiction.  Her unwavering love, resilience, and giving back stand as a beacon of hope in the fight against this relentless epidemic.  May her story inspire compassion, understanding, and support for those affected by dependency, and may it serve as a catalyst for change in our society.  

His Ever-Present Memory

Amid the vibrant blooms and fragrant petals at Pea Pod & Juniper, Kim’s floral and gift shop, there rests a pair of well-worn, once shiny hockey skates that tell a story of a young life lived and symbolizes the enduring bond between a mother and her son that transcends time and space.  “I keep Alex’s hockey skates within sight of my floral display table—close enough to be seen at all times,” says Kim with tears welling up in her eyes.  “Each glance at the skates is a moment of connection, a way for me to keep Alex’s memory alive and honor the love that only we shared.”  

Donate To Save a Life from Addiction

Everyone deserves a fresh start and patients recovering from addiction who are reclaiming their lives, no longer need to be concerned that their treatment will be disrupted through a brand-new program at UPMC Chautauqua Outpatient Mental Health and Chemical Dependency Program that will cover medications until their insurance coverage begins to pay.  Please consider donating to support addiction recovery efforts at UPMC Chautauqua.  The WCA Foundation celebrates 42 years of supporting patient care, providing $12M in grant funds to UPMC Chautauqua.  For more information or to learn about the WCA Foundation, visit or contact Kristin Melville, executive director, at 716-664-8665 or email