The Boy in the Photo
Edith Heideman '72 remembers her son
Adrian as a young man who "lit up the room."
By Rachel Stewart Johnson '96
Photographs of a teenage
Adrian Heideman show a boy, often holding a guitar. The boy with the
floppy blond hair appears playful, handsome, intent.
Today, his mother’s pain is acute.
Edith “Edie” Heideman ’72 is passionate, but also distraught, raw and
unapologetic. Her only son—her “big, beautiful, still-growing”
18-year-old son—died seven weeks after his arrival at college in 2000.
The death of any young man is a tragedy, but the manner in which this
young man died—alone in a fraternity house basement, felled by alcohol
poisoning—has left his mother wading through grief that does not ebb.
Heideman’s upbringing was unlike most. He did not, his mother believes,
hold the myth of his own immortality typical of many adolescents. Since
diagnosed with cancer (acute lymphoblastic leukemia) at the age of 4, he
was busy at the task of cheating death.
“He never complained,” Edie says. She describes him as a cheerful boy
who approached his cancer treatment in a matter-of-fact way. He looked
forward to playing video games at the hospital. After a while, he
dismissed the discomfort of receiving anesthesia. The lengthy fight
shaped him into a thoughtful person, focused on the present, recalls his
Edie’s voice often rises when she speaks of her son, the second of four
children. Not long before his death, Adrian made his first return trip
home—a 200-mile trek from California State University, Chico to Palo
Alto. “When I saw him, I was so happy; I jumped into his arms,” Edie
Adrian was born in Houston, where the family had moved from the San
Francisco Bay Area temporarily to allow his father, Michael, to complete
his Ph.D. at Rice University. Four years later, Edie began to notice a
gaunt, almost translucent look to her son and dreaded the reason. “I
began grieving when Adrian was diagnosed with leukemia,” she says.
“He had this unique childhood,” Edie explains. Before leaving the
hospital as a newborn, Adrian was diagnosed with PKU, a serious genetic
disorder that can result in brain damage. Two weeks later, his parents
were told there had been an error and the baby was fine.
Gradually after being diagnosed with leukemia, Adrian’s health improved,
and his hospitalizations and clinic visits became shorter and less
frequent. As a young adolescent, Adrian did not excel academically.
“Since he spent the better part of his life saving his life, he never
took school too seriously,” Edie says. In high school, he and two
classmates clashed with a teacher. Although she empathized with her son,
calling the teacher “unfit to be around adolescents,” Edie encouraged
Adrian to endure.
“I forced Adrian to stay through it, because I said, ‘Honey, this is
what the real world is like. There’s going to be people out there who
don’t like you and try to make your life difficult. You have to learn to
rise above these challenges.’ But if I had known then that he only had
two more years to live, I would’ve transferred him out of the class.”
Adrian found his niches as he grew. He enjoyed summer trips abroad and
learned Japanese. He was creative, making music with two bands,
composing hundreds of poems and performing with a children’s theatre
company. After being overweight for years as a side effect of his cancer
treatment, he became fitness-minded midway through high school and made
the varsity wrestling squad.
Then, the denouement of the young survivor’s life: two sets of stairs
below a raucous fraternity party, alone after being compelled to down a
bottle of brandy. He was meant to sleep it off.
The reality pains Edie in a way unmatched. “When he died,” she says, “I
of course wanted to die.” She searches for a way to convey such loss.
“That part of my DNA is gone.”
In the several months before his death, Adrian’s life had the
predictable quality of youth. He wrote an online journal that remains a
testament to the archetypal college freshman experience: wondering about
classes, keeping in touch with old friends.
“I hate chem lab. My one worst enemy is chem lab. It is the bane of my
existence. Skateboarding on the other hand is super duper cool.”
About a month before his death, he began to refer to his decision to
rush a fraternity: “The only one I would want to join though is Pi Kappa
Phi, which I got invited to an invitational BBQ tonight at. I have to
wear a dressy shirt and dressy pants and a tie. Oi. I don’t have dressy
clothes up here.”
Two days later: “So I decided to go Greek. It’s so fun. I was afraid
about going Greek at first because I didn’t want to be a part of
anything that was just about drinking and partying and sports and stuff
I don’t like, but the fraternity I’m pledging to is a lot nicer than
Edie does not hide her disdain for the campus culture that enabled and
encouraged the fraternity hazing experience as a youthful rite of
passage. She and her husband filed lawsuits against the fraternity and
the students involved. The fraternity lost its recognition and
university privileges, and some fraternity members served modest jail
time and paid monetary damages.
Edie has become a nationwide voice against hazing and a proponent of
educating students about the prevention of alcohol poisoning. She has
visited several college campuses, presenting a lecture titled “One Last
Drink.” Included in her talk is a tape of the 911 call made the night
her son died. She shines a steady spotlight on the ignorance of Adrian’s
fraternity brothers, who were, she says, “doing CPR on a dead body.”
The religious faith that Edie held during her children’s early years has
faded. The woman who prayed with her children every night now offers: “I
used to believe in God.” She laments the undercurrents that can whisk an
innocent life away. “Raising children is a challenge even in the best of
circumstances,” she says. “It’s not a safe world we’ve brought them
Bringing up Adrian was a story of lovesickness, from its earliest years.
Edie remains ebullient in describing her son.
“He had a heart larger than a house,” she says. “He lit up a room.”
A Few Facts About Students and Alcohol
• Alcohol consumption by college students is
linked to at least 1,400 student deaths and 500,000 unintentional
injuries each year.
• Approximately one in three 18-to-24-year-olds admitted to emergency
rooms for serious injuries is intoxicated.
• Alcohol or other drugs were a factor with 75 percent of the men and 55
percent of the women in reported acquaintance rapes on college campuses.
• During one’s life span, the highest prevalence of periodic heavy
alcohol consumption is associated with the age of 19 to 24.
• In a recent national study, 31 percent of students met criteria for a
diagnosis of alcohol abuse and six percent for alcohol dependence.
• On average, college students may drink on fewer occasions than their
but they drink heavily on a more frequent basis than non-students.
• Students at smaller colleges tend to drink more than students at
• The number of college students who do not drink has increased to
approximately 20 percent.
• Members of fraternities and sororities tend to drink more than
students who do not participate in the Greek system.
Source: the Website of B.R.A.D (Be Responsible About Drinking)