RICHMOND, Va. -- From the time they were young, Ashley Gill and Shawn Thomas were inseparable; they were soul mates with big dreams ahead of them, that they would often share with laughter.
“We’re going to travel, go skydiving, go to the Shenandoah Valley and we’re going to do mud runs,” Ashley remembers with a big smile. “If anyone met my sister, she loved everyone. I never met someone who didn’t love my sister.”
But their dreams together were shattered in November 2020, when Shawn died from organ failure.
“She would drop anything to help anyone,” Ashley says. “She was the sweetest soul, but she didn’t get the help she needed to combat alcoholism, which led to her death. So on November 16th, 2020, she had her rebirth date in heaven.”
While Shawn loved serving her country, including serving in Afghanistan, she experienced severe PTSD after leaving the military in January 2013. Shawn turned to alcohol to help cope, but she was able to eventually get help with her addiction and recover.
However, when the pandemic hit in March 2020, Shawn was working for the Department of Homeland Security and relapsed within just a few months. Ashley says she didn’t realize the extent of her sister’s suffering, until she received an emergency phone call one afternoon from a sheriff’s deputy.
“She was able to say goodbye, and then she was gone,” Ashley says.
In the months that followed, the pain of losing her sister became too much for Ashley to bear, and she fell into the same addiction that she had suffered earlier in life.
“I honestly don’t know what I would have done if it wasn’t for my family,” Ashley says. “I lost the thing that, other than my family, that I loved the most. I lost the person that I loved.”
With the support of her family and the inspiration of a friend, Ashley was able to get help and begin her recovery from alcoholism, but not before sustaining the same organ damage as her sister.
Surrounded by her husband and two children, Ashley told CBS 6 that she was waiting and praying for a liver donor.
“We’re currently trying to find a donor, if not, I am at the mercy of UNO’s,” Ashley says. “I will get a call any minute of any day, telling me that a liver is found. It could be months; it could be years.”
But knowing that recovery from a liver transplant will take six to seven months, Ashley is trying to prepare her family, both financially and emotionally.
“She’s the strongest person I know- she’s done an amazing job,” says Ashely’s husband, Andrew.
Just before Christmas, CBS 6’s Tracy Sears surprised Ashley with a prayer shawl, knitted by parishioners at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Goochland. She also gave Ashley a gift card to help with future medical expenses as part of the Month of Giving made possible with the help of Virginia Credit Union.
“Oh my gosh, it’s beautiful,” Ashley says through tears.
“So many people are suffering right now with mental illness and substance abuse and you’re so brave to tell your story,” Tracy tells Ashley.
While Ashely says it’s painful to share her and her sister’s story, she hopes it will help others to feel less ashamed about the illness of addiction.
“If anyone is listening, I hope they know there’s life after addiction and there’s life after pain,” Ashley says. “I am here by the grace of God.”
Watch for a new CBS 6 Month of Giving surprise every day in December on CBS 6 News at 6 a.m., 4 p.m., and 6 p.m.
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