Alexandra Sheichuk’s journey to exorcise the demons of drug addiction brought her 12,000 kilometres from her Calgary home to a Thailand monastery renowned for its uncompromising detox program.
For the past year, the 23-year-old lived a cloistered existence in the Thamkrabok Monastery just north of Bangkok, undergoing intense daily rituals alongside Buddhist monks to escape the grip of opioids that had plagued her since she was a teenager growing up in the southwest community of Woodbine.
On Dec. 8, Sheichuk’s body was found in Laos, which shares a border with Thailand. Sources told Postmedia she died of a medical condition.
The program that saw the ballet dancer and avowed Star Wars- and Harry Potter-obsessed fangirl fly to the other side of the planet had worked — no traces of drugs were found in the young woman’s system.
But that’s cold comfort to Sheichuk’s many friends and family who are now grieving her sudden and unexpected loss.
Family members, still in deep mourning, declined to comment on the story or discuss how Sheichuk died, but friends who requested anonymity in order to respect the family’s wishes paint a picture of a young woman with a big heart and an unquenchable zest for life.
“She had a gentle soul and a kind heart. However, the quality she was most known for was her sense of humour. There was never any doubt that Alexandra would have you laughing within the first couple of minutes of talking to her,” one friend wrote.
“In her adult years, she ventured through British Columbia and Thailand. Finding herself at home in Thailand, she aspired to do great things and overcome everything she had once struggled with.
“Alexandra will always be remembered for the ways she would light up even the darkest of rooms, her infectious smile, and for never failing to comfort a friend or the strangest of strangers. She was truly one in a million and she will be missed by many.”
A Go Fund Me campaign launched by her elder sister aimed to raise funds to return her body home, as well as for funeral costs.
“Parents should never bury their children. What makes it even more difficult, is inability to cry over the body of her daughter, because it happened in a different country,” the online post read.
“We are asking all the community members, friends and everyone with compassion at heart, to help and bring the child home to Canada into her mother’s arms.”
According to the post, which offered no details as to the nature of her death, Sheichuk was beloved by her family and passionate about animals.
“Alexandra was a loving daughter, sister, aunt. She had a big heart,” it read.
“Alexandra had a passion for animals, especially for dogs. She had a dream of becoming a veterinarian. She had a beautiful smile and knew how to make you laugh. She is going to be greatly missed by her parents, sisters and nephews.”
A story published by Public Radio International in February said Sheichuk had come to the Thamkrabok Monastery to take part in a unique drug detox program run by Buddhist monks.
She told the non-profit media outlet that she had battled drug abuse since she was 12, and spiralled into an addiction to opioids — including OxyContin pills cut with potentially deadly fentanyl — a few years later.
The treatment facility prescribes no drugs to help kick the habit, instead relying on a more spiritual approach through self-reliance and discipline, which Sheichuk said finally gave her some freedom from her addiction.
“It all came out, and it just hit me. Like, life hit me, like, ‘Oh my God, like what have I been doing for the last 10 years of my life?’ I spent my 22nd birthday in detox here,” she told PRI.
“I have never been able to come to a detox or treatment centre that would be like, ‘You don’t need medication; you need to feel what you feel inside,’ and that’s the whole freeing part of it. At first, I didn’t get it, and a lot of Westerners probably don’t.”
Global Affairs Canada confirmed that a Canadian citizen had died in Laos, and added they are offering support to family members. Postmedia has confirmed the citizen was Sheichuk.
“Our thoughts and sympathies are with the family and friends of a Canadian citizen who died in Laos,” the ministry said in a statement.
“Consular officials are providing assistance to the family during this difficult time and are in contact with local authorities. Due to the provisions under the Privacy Act, no further information can be disclosed.”
On Sunday, Sheichuk’s sister, Mariya Loutenko, wrote that there had been progress in returning the body to Calgary to arrange for a funeral.
“My baby sister will be here soon. Thank you everyone,” she posted.
As of Wednesday, some $15,000 had been raised through the effort.