KATHY AND ZACH MELBA are shown in Huntington, W.Va.

KATHY AND ZACH MELBA are shown in Huntington, W.Va.


If the phone rings for her husband at 3 a.m., Kathy Melba will never be upset because she knows the next night it could be for her.

“We know that somebody needs us out there,” she said.

“The door can never be closed.”

That understanding of why they each need to give back to the community, forged in the fire of their separate recoveries from lifelong addictions, is their bond.

The couple met in Cabell County Drug Court five years ago, and their journeys there were different, but just as hard.

Zach Melba, 33, grew up in Barboursville and moved to Huntington when he was 16. His dad was a single parent, and Zach Melba said he was a problem child from the start.

“I smoked my first joint in elementary school,” he said. “Black-out drinking by middle school and in (juvenile detention) by the time I was in high school — ninth grade. It was an early start, shoplifting and that kind of thing.”

That’s when his dad moved them to Huntington for a change of scenery, but Zach Melba got in trouble immediately.

He did his first OxyContin pill at 16.

“That started it off,” he said. “From the age of 18 to 24 was a lot of OxyContin use. I started shooting up when I was 18. Then from 24 to 27 it progressed to crack and heroin. Then it came to a head in 2009 when I robbed the CVS on 29th Street.”

Kathy Melba, 46, also started young. She was 12 when she first got drunk and was a black-out drinker after that.

Originally from Ona, she said it was just what was acceptable at the time and it made her feel important.

She did some prescription pills throughout her 20s and early 30s, but it changed when she was introduced to OxyContin at 37. After a few years, she started injecting the pills. Then that got too expensive and she switched to heroin, then crack.

“The crack just takes you to a level where you don’t care if you live or die,” she said. “It’s really sad.”

Kathy Melba was arrested in 2010 on five felony charges, including shoplifting and a warrant for fleeing the courthouse.

Because they were non-violent offenders, they were offered drug court. Both said they were hesitant.

“All the girls would say you’ll never make it, you’re setting yourself up for failure,” Kathy Melba said. “But at that point, for me, that was like salvation. I knew there wasn’t much more time for me to be out there, I was going to die. I just knew it.”

Zach Melba, however, was just prepared for prison.

“Just give me a 10 flat,” he said. “I had, from a previous charge, seven months and then 16 months on this charge, so in two or three years I would have been eligible for parole. That, in my mind’s eye, was the best case scenario.”

But that’s not what the court had in mind. He was actually facing 7 to 31 years on charges that would be served consecutively.

So he entered drug court.

“That started the recovery process,” he said. “It was extremely intensive. You got to five (Alcoholics Anonymous) or (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings a week. You take four to five drug screens a week. You see the probation officer twice a week. You go to court once a week. You go to recovery and alcohol education class.”

Both had some hiccups in the beginning.

Kathy Melba was living at a dope house, and when the court found out, she had to move into the city mission.

“That was the best thing that ever happened to me,” she said. “I lived at the city mission at the women and families side for four months, and in December I moved over to Project Hope and I got my 13-year-old daughter, she came and lived with me.”

Zach Melba was still using just before he entered drug court. He told the court he was clean, and got caught in the lie when he tested positive, and he was put in jail.

“That’s when reality set in, when they put me in jail that time,” he said. “I was sentenced 7 to 31 years. I’ve been to jail a number of times, on different felony charges, and it’s always one to five, or one to three — there’s always an option, though, that maybe suspended sentence or probation. But when I was all out of options, that’s when it got real. So I finally started to do something about it.”

A year and seven days later, he was the first graduate of the program.

Drug court taught them how to live.

“I got my driver’s license,” Zach Melba said. “I got a little apartment. I got some utilities in my name — stuff I had never done before.”

Kathy Melba started at Mountwest Community and Technical College and got a degree in early education. All her children came back into her life, including her first grandchild who her oldest child said she would never see again after almost dropping her while she was high.

And Zach and Kathy fell in love.

“It’s like we got a re-do,” she said.

Today, Zach Melba has a career in highway safety and Kathy Melba works at the Huntington City Mission, where she said she knew she was needed, giving back to the place that changed her life. They own a home in the Ritter Park area.

“You would never know that five years ago I was a liar, thief, crackhead and a heroin junkie, not to mention an alcoholic,” Zach Melba said. “Today I am a respected friend, father figure. I have an amazing career. I’m the president of a nonprofit organization that houses the oldest AA group in Huntington. It’s amazing. It’s all a direct result of the programs in Huntington.”

Kathy Melba said what they both learned has given them the ability to help others, including their own family who also have the disease of addiction.

“I was never a great mom or a great significant other, but it’s like a 180 degree turnaround,” she said. “I’m a completely different person. I have to say God has a lot to do with it. Without God I would be nothing, and that’s where both of those programs — drug court and the Huntington City Mission — put me where I am today. So I can be a good wife and good mother.”

Life wouldn’t be as sweet today if the lows wouldn’t have been so low, Zach Melba said. How sweet it is, indeed.

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