LANSING, MICH. - After nearly losing his life from the flu and watching several friends die from drug overdoses, Justin Farmer says he feels lucky to be alive.
The 29-year-old was released April 7 after 45 days in the hospital. He’s now recovering at his father and step-mother’s Lansing townhouse.
“There’s the ups and there’s the downs, but I’m optimistic. I’ve made huge strides in a little bit of time,” he said.
The illness was horrendous -- he had a drug-resistant pneumonia among other complications -- but the timing was equally tragic. Farmer was just two weeks out of rehab, having graduated from Holden House, a non-profit drug rehab center in Lansing. He was put on life support the day he was scheduled to start a new job at a pizza joint.
Farmer said he’s used heroin on and off since the age of 17. He’s had jobs but motorists may have seen him holding a sign and asking for money on the corner of West Mount Hope Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in the past.
He spent 82 days in court-ordered treatment after an arrest on drug possession, and he was ready to get on with his life.
I wrote about Farmer’s serious condition when his family wanted to alert others about why they need to get a flu shot. His father and sister were interviewed by the Discovery Channel for a fall documentary on the virus. Farmer had Type A flu that could have been prevented with the vaccine, his doctor confirmed.
Farmer’s father, Timothy, said his son sought treatment at Sparrow’s emergency room and then Lansing Urgent Care for flu symptoms prior to being hospitalized. Justin Farmer recalls little of it, just being told to go home and rest and stay hydrated. His roommate later took him back to Sparrow where he was admitted and quickly put on life support.
He was flown to the University of Michigan Medical Center the next day in septic shock with his heart, lungs and kidneys failing.
Farmer spent three weeks on a heart-lung machine and longer on a ventilator.
Now his hands shake and he’s easily winded. He still faces possible amputation of three of his toes and has poor short-term memory. His weight plummeted from 200 to 137 pounds. He now weighs about 150 pounds.
He said he was told the shaking will clear eventually but he doesn’t know what to expect about his memory. It could be up to a year before his lungs recover, if they recover fully.
Farmer’s family said the flu struck him down just as he seemed to be pulling his life together finally.
Justin Farmer agreed with that, offering a colorful analogy. “It took a long time for me to get my ducks in a row. I finally got them in the row, and a crocodile comes up and eats my ducklings and then snatches me up.”
He said the illness won’t stop him from staying drug free. He was shook by the deaths of several friends last fall when they overdosed after using tainted drugs.
"I've just seen it suck souls out of people. After everything I’ve been through and everything I lost because of it throughout my life, I just got sick and tired of being sick and tired,” he said.
“When I went into treatment, I was ready for it and I was wanting to kick the habit. There are no cravings because I’m done with that lifestyle, and I know where it will take me.”
“Amen,” his father said quietly in the background.
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Judy Putnam is a columnist with the Lansing State Journal. Contact her at (517) 267-1304 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @JudyPutnam.
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