Nova Scotia

Danny MacKillop returns home to Cape Breton a changed man

A Reserve Mines, N.S., man went from living on the streets of Toronto addicted to drugs and alcohol to living a clean life in rehab in Vancouver.

Reserves Mines man visiting for 2 weeks, then returning to B.C. to continue rehab

Danny MacKillop at JA Douglas McCurdy airport in Sydney. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

It's been a whirlwind seven months for a man from Reserve Mines, Cape Breton.

Since he returned money he found in a banking machine to its rightful owner in November, Danny MacKillop's life has changed completely.

In November 2017, he found some money that Toronto police special Const. Jay Kirkwood left behind at an ATM, and rather than spend it to support his habit, MacKillop returned it.

It triggered a series of events that saw him go from living on the streets of Toronto addicted to drugs and alcohol to living a clean life in rehab in Vancouver.

Dozens of family and friends greeted him at the JA Douglas McCurdy airport in Sydney.

Mary MacKillop, Danny MacKillop and Danny’s daughter, Danielle Lee. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

He embraced his mom and his 22 year-old daughter. It's his first time home in 12 years.

MacKillop said he was nervous and overwhelmed.

"Trying to look around and see who was who," said MacKillop. "Then finally seeing my mom and daughter and the rest of the family, it was, you know, brought tears to my eyes. It's been a long time."

Many have followed his powerful story since his act of honesty and kindness moved his life in a new direction.

After his mother, Mary MacKillop, learned Danny was alive from a Facebook post about Danny having returning the money, she went to Toronto to find him.

That reunion prompted Danny to start rehab at the Together We Can Addiction and Recovery Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver.

Mary and Danny MacKillop. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

Now he's been sober for six months. Amid her happy tears, Mary MacKillop is thrilled to have him home for a visit.

"Spend some time together, some quality time," she said. "And that's about it. Just haven't seen him — the real him — in 18 years."

Hugged by many relatives and friends, Danny had to take a second to let it all sink it.

"It's very emotional, I mean I haven't seen these people in a long time," he said.

"And for the longest time I gave up hope that I'd even see them again, you know, I was just prepared to die out there on the streets."

Reconnecting with family

But life had other plans for him and now he's looking forward to his time home

"Just the reconnection with my daughter and mom and just the rest of the family," he said.

Todd MacDougall grew up with Danny. He started a GoFundMe campaign in the winter to raise money for Danny to get dental work.

MacKillop arrived home with MacDougall and his family.

"Danny actually sat in the seat ahead of me and he was with an elderly lady and just to see the smile on Danny's face interacting with other people," said MacDougall. "It's been 10 years since I seen the guy — so it's good to see him for sure.

"I know Danny was pretty nervous coming off the plane, considering the fact of what happened," said MacDougall. "So to see everyone here was pretty amazing."

For a long time I thought all the bad things I'd done that nobody even liked me anymore, but now that I'm getting clean and sober I realized it was the other way around, that I had pushed everyone else away- Danny MacKillop

MacKillop said he was surprised by the number of people at the airport and is buoyed by their support.

"Makes me definitely feel wanted, makes it all worthwhile," said MacKillop.

"You know, for a long time, I thought all the bad things I'd done that nobody even liked me anymore, but now that I'm getting clean and sober I realized it was the other way around, that I had pushed everyone else away."

Baseball has always been a passion for MacKillop. He's returned to it in his recovery.

While home, he'll be taking part in the Jason Simmons memorial ball tournament with MacDougall and other friends this weekend in Glace Bay.

It's all part of getting to know life in a new way.

After his two-week visit he'll head back to the rehab centre in Vancouver for another six months.

For now, he plans to enjoy Cape Breton.

"To be coming back is truly special," said MacKillop. "It just shows people that recovery truly is possible."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

From people around the corner to those around the world, Norma Jean MacPhee has more than a decade of experience telling their stories on the radio, TV and online. Reach Norma Jean at norma.jean.macphee@cbc.ca

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