STATEN ISLAND — Michele Monti recalled a day 11 years ago when she was 44-years-old. She said one morning she woke up and said, "Enough is enough."
Monti said she decided to stop her recreational use of cocaine, go back to school, and get certification as a home health aide. She accomplished all three goals but never realized her greatest trial was ahead.
"I learned a lot of lessons," Monti tearfully said. "But I didn't want to have a lesson like this. Losing my daughter."
Not long after the mother of two stopped using cocaine, her teen daughter, Nicole, moved to Brooklyn and went to school to learn hair styling. Nicole Monti spent long hours on her feet at the hair salon. She developed back pain.
"She had the carpal tunnel, her neck to her shoulder, her back," Michelle Monti remembered. When Nicole was 21, the mother recalled her daughter got a prescription for a powerful painkiller called oxycodone.
Within a few years, Nicole Monti wasn't looking so well.
And then, Nicole's Brooklyn landlord called her mother and said she had better come to the apartment.
"I found little white bags with spoons and residue and needles," Michele Monti told PIX11. It was evident Nicole Monti had "graduated" to another opioid: Heroin.
"I felt like I was at a crime scene," the mother remembered. "I had to wear gloves and a mask. It took me five hours to clean up this apartment."
Nicole's mother sent her to residential rehab for nine months "and she did wonderful."
"She came out and she was 26 and she was clean," the mother recalled.
There was time in a sober house and then Nicole's life changed again.
She met a boyfriend and in January 2016, Nicole gave birth to a baby girl, Emma.
Unfortunately, Nicole would not live to see Emma's first birthday.
She had been using another opioid, Percocet, during the pregnancy and returned to Heroin after Emma's birth.
"The day of the baby's christening, November 26, I was told she overdosed that night and every week after that," Michele Monti said.
Nicole Monti survived a number of overdoses with assist from Narcan, an opioid blocker that reverses the effects of heroin on the respiratory system. But she didn't survive the last overdose on January 21, 2017. That one left Nicole Monti brain-dead.
Several days later, Michele Monti made the decision to donate her daughter's organs – and then take her off life support.
The still-grieving mom shared her story, as a cautionary tale.
"I feel like I'm being punished, because I wasn't as good of a mother as I know I could be," Michele Monti said through tears.
But Monti takes solace in the vibrant, small life of her granddaughter, Emma, who has shown no signs of developmental delay.
"The opposite!" Monti said. "She feeds herself, blows on her food, when she eats.
She's all my daughter. It's like Nicole all over again."