Recovering addicts reconnect with first responders who saved their lives

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) – First responders save lives every single day but often they may never see those people they save ever again. One local woman is using her own tough experiences to change that.

Code Gratitude is a program that connects first responders with the people they saved, specifically people who have overdosed. Kerry Vagg is the founder and got the idea after her husband saved someone who ended up becoming a very important person in her life.

Vagg and her husband, who’s a firefighter, lost their son, Cody, to an overdose in 2017.

“My husband spoke the words ‘Cody’s gone’ and I still couldn’t understand what he was talking about because I hadn’t worried about anything like that, so I said ‘what do you mean?'” Vagg said.

Rewind to a few months before Cody’s death. Cody met a girl named Krista Lattuca. They were both recovering addicts. He brought her home one day and as they walked up the driveway he said to Krista, “My dad saved your life when you overdosed.”

“I saw him and I came in the house I was like, ‘thank you for saving my life, and I have a son today, I can be a mom today,’ and I hugged him and he hugged me and it was a very connected moment with somebody I had no idea who they were,” said Krista.

Kerry said this came at the perfect time for Cody’s dad who had recently been feeling down about the job.

“He said, ‘I don’t feel like I’m making a difference, I’ve been a firefighter for 20 plus years and I did it so I can save lives and I just feel like I’m losing,'” Vagg said.

Cody died that summer. Kerry was trying to think of a way to honor her son’s memory and thought back to that moment.

“I remembered how Krista thanking my husband gave that hope back to him and I thought maybe that’s what’s missing.”

That’s when Code Gratitude was born.

“Our whole mission is for Code Gratitude to be a liaison anybody who’s interested who wants to find the person who saved them.”

The first person to thank first responders? Krista herself. She thanked the Rochester Fire Department Clinton section. The program has taken off.

On Friday morning, Vanessa Mellema thanked officers at the Irondequoit Police Department for saving her life.

“I just want to say thank you for giving me a second chance,” Mellema said to the officers.

Officer Joe Coon was part of the team that saved Mellema’s life. He said getting a thank you from her meant a lot.

“It means a lot. I’ll tell you what it doesn’t happen very often but it really puts it in perspective what our job is and the type of things that it entails and responsibilities we have and it’s nice to see that we’re appreciated every so often it’s pretty cool,” said Officer Coon.

Kerry and Krista work on Code Gratitude together. They’ve made several connections with other community organizations involving recovery.

They both miss Cody, but they’re glad they could do this in his memory.

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