Chris and Melody Piazza
In the fall of 2017, our son, Sam Piazza, walked into our bedroom to tell my husband and I that he had decided that he was “definitely going to Sewanee.” In the fall of 2018, Sam started his freshman year at the University of the South. In the spring of 2019, he pledged Sigma Nu fraternity and, all of a sudden had an entire group of new friends he called “brothers.” Sam came to love this beautiful University on a mountain in Tennessee. He loved the friends he made there. He loved the quirkiness of the school and the intelligence of its students. He loved to brag about his professors. He also liked to complain about them.
We last saw our beautiful son at family weekend in the fall of 2022. He seemed so well adjusted and happy. He was engaged in his classes and talked about working hard to correct some previous mistakes he had made in prior semesters by not working up to his potential. He and his dad played golf that Saturday on a glorious fall morning. He spent the afternoon attending the tailgates. It was a beautiful day on the mountain. That night we had a party with some other families at a house we had rented for the weekend and hosted many of Sam’s friends and their parents. It was a fun evening of watching college football, meeting new Sewanee families and spending time with Sam and his precious girlfriend. The last time we saw our beautiful, clever son alive was that night as he and his girlfriend walked out the front door happy and laughing as they left to catch a ride with a very nice family who was taking several kids back to campus.
Two weeks later, we received a call in the early morning hours of October 1, 2022, telling us that Sam had been airlifted from Sewanee to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville. When we arrived in the Intensive Care Unit at Vanderbilt, we found Sam with a tube down his throat that was keeping him alive. We learned that he had ingested cocaine while with friends at Sewanee the night before and at some point that evening began having what was described as “seizures.” Of course, the kids that were with him did not understand what they were seeing was a drug interaction. What his friends who surrounded him and loved him did not understand is that those seizures represented his heart seizing. They were unaware that cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was needed to keep Sam’s heart beating, so it could continue to supply oxygen to his organs, most importantly, his brain. His friends carried him out of the Sigma Nu house and drove him minutes away to the Sewanee hospital where the staff there worked hard to try and save his life by restarting his heart. He was airlifted from there to Vanderbilt where Vanderbilt’s medical team continued to try and save Sam. Unfortunately, the amount of time that passed while his brain did not receive oxygen had been too long. On October 5, 2022, Sam was taken off the ventilator at Vanderbilt Hospital and we said goodbye to our beautiful, precious son.
To be very clear, Sam did not overdose on cocaine. The amount of cocaine in Sam’s system as documented in the toxicology report was nowhere close to an overdose amount. The cocaine he ingested did not contain fentanyl. His heart simply did not accept this foreign substance and it went into an arrhythmia that caused a heart attack. Sam was not a drug user. He was a kid who thought it might be okay to try something new and it killed him.
We write this letter following the anniversary of Sam’s passing, to warn all of you bright and gifted students that the ingestion of a recreational drug is never recreational. It is taking a chance on harming yourself or changing your life and the lives of those around you forever. As Sam’s parents we champion Sewanee’s efforts to promote the Good Samaritan Campaign and challenge each of you to make every effort to learn how to perform CPR in case one of your fellow students needs you to be their Sewanee angel. We don’t know that CPR would have saved Sam that night. But, we do know that he had no chance whatsoever without it. Sam was just as bright and gifted as all of you. But, on a fall weekend a year ago he made a terrible decision that he could not have known would end his life and change the lives of all those who loved him in indescribable ways. We write this letter so you will know what he did not know that night.
Chris and Melody Piazza