Heavenly journey: Message in a bottle floats on to France in tribute of woman who died from Fentanyl

Patricia Drewes decided to write the message. She wrote Heaven’s story in a letter, wrapped it in a photo of her and sealed it in a bottle. It was found in France.

When Patricia Drewes dropped a message in a bottle off the Carolina coast, she didn’t expect it to be found halfway around the world – but she hoped it would.

“I wanted anyone who found that bottle to know the story of this beautiful girl who had such a beautiful life and a beautiful heart,” Drewes said.

Her daughter, Heaven Leigh Nelson, died of a Fentanyl poisoning in 2019. She was 24.

“These kids are getting illicit synthetic Fentanyl and they don’t have any clue that’s what they’re getting,” Drewes said. “”(Her) life was stolen from her, from myself, from her family, from her friends by a poisoning.”

Since then, Drewes has been raising awareness about the dangers of the illicit drug while caring for her grandson.

“I am the founder of Forgotten Victims of North Carolina. We have eight chapters across the state,” Drewes said. “We reach out to these families, we support these families and our motto is ‘No one stands alone’. That’s the one thing I remember is being alone and thinking I was the only person in the world that this has happened to. We offer support to these families and we become friends and then we become family.”

Every year, Drewes and her grandson take a beach trip on Jan. 28 – Heaven’s death date.

A shot of the message in a bottle found in France.

“Heaven loved the beach,” Drewes said. “Every year since her passing this is what we do. We go to the beach somewhere and we’re sitting there watching the sunrise.”

Three years ago, on the second commemorative trip, Drewes decided to write the message. She wrote Heaven’s story in a letter, wrapped it in a photo of her and sealed it in a bottle.

Captain Shane Bashor met Drewes on a boat dock in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He’s run a charter boat service there for decades. He said he’s had a lot of interesting requests over the years, even scattering ashes in the sea for loved ones but this was a first.

“She kind of told me the story about the message in a bottle. I wanted to make sure it actually had a chance of going somewhere other than washing up on the beach,” Bashor said.

A woman wrote her daughter’s life story on a note that traveled from the South Carolina coast all the way to France.

Bashor took the bottle 50 miles off the coast and dropped it near the Gulfstream. For years, the currents pushed and pulled it until it eventually ended up in Porto Novalo, France. On January 4, Drewes got an email from two women who found it.

It was weeks before her fifth beach trip in memory of Heaven.

“I had been very depressed. January is hard for me. I had been sick with a virus in the bed crying for three days and I had a dream about the bottle,” Drewes said. “I checked my Yahoo account and sure enough I had an email that the bottle had been found in France.”

Days later, she got another email from Charlotte Bouvard. She’d found the bottle with her 11-year-old son.

“It was very painful and very touching that this arrived to us. I think it means something,” Bouvard said. I understood that I had to talk to (my son) about drugs. We had never talked about it before because he’s very young. I was also very touched by the way Patricia wanted to retell her story.”

They sent her photos of the bottle along the French coastline. Drewes, who has French ancestry, was amazed.

“I cried it was very emotional for me. She loved to travel and to think that she had made it all the way to France,” Drewes said, “I couldn’t help to think, of course that’s where Heaven would end up–somewhere beautiful like that. She’s helping me spread the message and to save lives. And (she’s telling me) I’m not alone. She’s still with me.”

This year’s anniversary trip, Drewes and her grandson traveled to Carolina Beach with another family affected by Fentanyl poisoning.

Missy Duff of Selma lost her daughter Michiko Duff to Fentanyl poisoning years ago and is also raising her granddaughter. The story of Drewes’ bottle gives her hope.

“It let us know that our angels are out there and they are sending us signs and they’re letting us know to continue to fight,” Duff said.

The bottle is still out there. Bouvard and her son gave it to a police officer to be taken back out into the sea. Drewes is hopeful someone else will find it in the future.

Read the article and watch the video on the WRAL TV5 News website.