SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — While 2020 proved to be a rollercoaster year for many, it seems especially true for retired Marine Master Sergeant Alvin Mack II.
The Savannah native, who currently lives in North Carolina, wrapped up his time in the military in May of last year after 20 years of service.
That same month, the father of three children lost his only son, Alvin Mack III, to a vaping-related overdose.
“When the official autopsy report came back, it said it was an accidental overdose of fentanyl caused by vaping,” Mack told WSAV NOW.
The grieving father says his son, who was known as “Bo” by those who knew him, fought for his life for 27 days.
Mack Jr. served as an Air Force Honor Guard and was stationed at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. when the accident occurred.
“I received a phone call saying that my son was rushed to the hospital and was found unresponsive,” Mack recalled of the gut-wrenching moment he learned his child was in trouble.
“I hoped for the best, of course, but I just had this feeling that it was awful,” he said.
His family immediately made plans to rush to D.C., where COVID-19 restrictions prevented them from seeing their son right away.
After six long days, they could finally visit him in the hospital’s intensive care unit. They learned he had gone without oxygen for some time before being discovered after the overdose.
“He never was in a state of being responsive, he was on a ventilator and everything, fighting for his life,” Mack said.
Doctors weren’t sure what was wrong at first, initially believing it was coronavirus-related.
“In all actuality, I hoped it was COVID-19, maybe it would have been a better chance of survival, being that he was in great health,” the father said.
Mack Jr. lost his life on May 14, 2020 — just over a month after his 19th birthday.
“He was my pride,” Mack said as he wiped away a tear. “I’ve never could’ve imagined life without him, and having to live for however much time I have left here on Earth without him is very, very hard.”
‘Maybe we can save save at least one life’
Mack says he knew that his son, like many young people, vaped.
“I actually warned him many times about the possible dangers of vaping, but I just never fathomed that it would be my own son,” he said.
In the months following his child’s death, Mack says he spent time talking to his son through an oil painting of him that he keeps at home.
“I asked him, you know, ‘what should I be doing in this life to help others maybe, what would you like me to do here on your behalf?’” Mack said.
One morning in October after an evening of asking his son for guidance, Mack visited a North Carolina Publix and bought a scratch-off ticket.
“It ended up being a $10 million lottery winning,” he revealed.
The recent lottery winner says while no amount of money could ever lessen the pain of losing his son, he feels the win is a blessing and sign from above.
“I’ve been a firm believer of luck all my life, but the way these events transpired months apart in the same year, the heartache and pain and the blessing of almost unlimited wealth, to me it’s a sign that that I need to be doing more, even more than what I’ve already done,” Mack shared.
With his winnings, he hopes to honor his son by somehow helping raise awareness for vaping-related health threats.
“Even though it’s legal to vape, some of these young folks are just reckless and careless to where they are receiving their vaping liquid, whether it’s from a buddy or a hole-in-the-wall storefront selling some vape liquid,” Mack said.
“I just think a lot of people need to be more careful and know how valuable life is and how short life is,” he said.
Mack says he’s still working to figure out how best to use his newfound funds to make a significant impact.
“I want to figure that piece out, whether it’s facilities of individuals that are going through some type of rehab from vaping that may have gotten injured from it and they don’t really have the medical insurance to cover that, or organizations that kind of help with that financially, I will definitely reach out and try to do some more research on that to see if that’s even out there that I can help with,” he said.
“With this whole series of events, I think it all ties together, and even if I can find one organization to help out…I believe that’s a big win, and maybe we can save at least one life,” he said.