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A former "ice" user celebrates
"Thinking has been a big factor in my recovery," he said. "It (the program) changed how I think now, how I used to respond to things before. I learned to deal with things that come up. You have to want it and work the program. I wanted it in the worst way."
He said he's "living healthy." He put on 30 pounds "from eating regular," moving up two sizes in jeans, and is lifting weights.
He's an experienced installer of ceramic tile, and a fellow member of Alcoholics Anonymous got him his new job at a tile company. "I install, and this is distributing, but it's good for me right now," Kunishige said. "It's the same industry as what I love to do. I'm real happy for it.
"At first I thought I wouldn't be able to work like I used to," he said. "I used to depend on alcohol and drugs to work, to keep me going."
He's found, however, that he works a lot better now. "I remember things. I've got physical conditioning. It keeps me going. I was run-down, burned out. Now everything has changed tremendously."
He said his father visited him from Kona and they went to lunch. "He ordered me a beer by mistake. I said, 'Dad, you've gotta drink it. I prefer not to now.'"
Kunishige is still smoking cigarettes, but is trying to quit, "especially after my teeth were cleaned."
He began going to da Vinci Dental Center on May 12 to try to fix his damaged teeth.
Peter Kyriakakis, who operates the center with his brother, Nicholas, said Medicaid covered the extractions and he made fee arrangements with his patient for the other dental work.
He said Kunishige "had been living with pain a lot." He had rampant decay and his teeth were misaligned, black with tartar and dirt, and he had severe gum disease.
"It's not like the drug directly rots the teeth," Kyriakakis explained, but substance abusers, particularly with crystal meth and heroin, don't take care of their mouth.
"If you don't take out the teeth that are sick, it will lead to serious infections. It can be life-threatening."
He said Kunishige was so motivated to have his teeth repaired that he missed only one appointment.
Kyriakakis removed the worst 10 teeth, and "saved teeth most people would have taken out, so he had something left to eat with." He scaled others to remove the tartar and address the inflammation and gum disease.
He made a partial denture for the upper front teeth and one for the lower back teeth.
"You've got to get used to them," he told Kunishige. "They're not perfectly straight, so they look natural, really good."
Now that his gums are restored and he's drug-free, Kunishige only has to follow a maintenance schedule, Kyriakakis said.
"He's going to find that people treat him much differently," the doctor added. "They're going to look at his eyes, not his teeth."