Local Onamia Man’s Accidental Opioid Overdose

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017 

Skylor Weyaus is 24 years old. Up until last week, he had his whole life ahead of him. Now, he is laying in a hospital bed in St. Cloud in a coma – a coma from which he will never awaken.

Skylor loved basketball more than anything. “If he could have just played basketball his whole life, I don’t think he would have turned to drugs,” his mother Jonell Sam said. Skylor is an Onamia High School class of 2011 graduate. “Basketball was his life,” his mom said, holding back tears while sitting in the family room of the intensive care unit on the fourth floor of the St. Cloud Hospital. Jonell has left the hospital for only a few hours since she arrived one week ago.

As the machines pumped air into his lungs, Jonell explained Skylor now has Anoxic brain injury (also called cerebral hypoxia or hypoxic-anoxic injury) caused by a lack of oxygen to his brain. “The doctors were very clear to us. He will never wake up. Now we have to pick a date,” Jonell said. She paused, wiping a tear from her cheek. She let out a breath she had been holding in an effort to keep back the tears. 

“I hate this drug. I hate all drugs, but this is killing a lot of people,” Jonell said. “It killed his dad, and now it is killing him, too.”

It was Saturday evening, Aug. 26. Skylor and some of his housemates at his home on Aninaatig Loop in the Bugg Hill neighborhood had been using heroin, according to what Jonell has since found out. Skylor apparently decided he needed a shower and asked one of his housemates to check on him in a while. A few housemates had to leave to go to work a night shift at the casino. For hours, no one thought about Skylor upstairs taking a shower.  

About 1:15 am Sunday morning, the housemates returned to the house. Jordan Engel, Skylor’s 20-year-old brother, knew something wasn’t right. “He said he heard funny breathing coming from the bathroom,” Jonell said. When Jordan opened the door to the bathroom, he found his brother laying naked in the bathtub. Skylor was barely breathing.  

“Apparently someone had looked in on him at some point. They covered him with blankets and left him there,” Jonell said. 

Jordan called 911. Tribal officers were the first to arrive and immediately administered Narcan – the antidote given in heroin overdoses. Before the ambulance arrived, Skylor’s heart stopped. Two tribal officers began performing CPR and after 25 minutes, Skylor’s heart started again.

“Those officers brought him back to life,” Jonell said, “at least temporarily.”

One officer had to leave to go to another call of a report of another overdose in the same neighborhood.

Skylor was brought by ambulance to Mille Lacs Health System in Onamia where he was air lifted to St. Cloud.

“As they were loading him into the helicopter, his heart stopped again. They shocked him to get it started and then had to wait until he was stabilized before they could take off,” Jonell said. 

Doctors began running tests and machines have since been keeping him alive. “The doctors told us he will never wake up, but miracles do happen,” Jonell said. “I believe in miracles. I want to believe in a miracle for Skylor. But even if he does wake up, the doctors said he wouldn’t be Skylor anymore. Because he was without oxygen for so long, his brain is severely damaged.”

Jonell said one doctor advised the family to stop life support. Another doctor told the family to give it some time. “I have to let it sink in. One doctor agreed with me. He told me to make sure I was making the right decision and to be free of guilt no matter what I decide,” Jonell said.

It is a decision she wishes she didn’t have to make. 

Life and death

Gathered around Skylor’s hospital bed some family members shared stories of Skylor as the machines keeping him alive hummed and beeped. There never has been a piece of fried chicken that Skylor didn’t like. “He loved chicken so much he was nearly obsessed with it,” Jonell said. He also loves to sing. He would sing all the time and at the top of his lungs, the family said, laughing. When asked if he was any good, they all laughed again. “Not at all,” his cousin Naomi Weyaus said.  “He thought he was,” his brother Darius said. 

The family room tucked into the corner of ICU was filled with members of Skylor’s family – young and old, from little nieces and nephews to cousins, aunties and uncles. It was clear Skylor had a lot of support in that room. 

While Jonell and Skylor’s dad had been divorced for 13 years, the family remained close. 

Jonell had been working for the Mille Lacs Band as a child protection social worker. Drugs on the rez started getting bad in 2012, she said. “We had a lot of babies born addicted to heroin even back then,” she added. The drug issue within the Band community was becoming increasingly widespread. 

“I saw people change – people I knew and loved, but it was so bad,” she said. She took a deep breath. “I had to move. I couldn’t take it.”

Jonell said she is probably the last to know her son Skylor had a drug problem. She had been aware he was using weed. “We had that talk in the best mom-way I could. I told him how bad all drugs were. He said it was just a little weed,” Jonell said. 

Skylor’s dad, Phillip Weyaus Sr., died of a heroin overdose on March 7, 2016. “I think that is what sent Skylor over the edge. I think that is when his drug use started getting bad,” Jonell said. “He didn’t know how to cope with the loss of his dad.”

Jonell said Skylor did have a problem with alcohol. “He didn’t drink all the time, but, when he drank, he wasn’t able to control his actions or his choices.” She told of an incident involving alcohol when he was 16 years old and he rolled his car. “It rolled nine times,” she said. Skylor was airlifted to a Minneapolis hospital at that time. “That was his first brush with death.”

She said recently she thought he had been taking pain killers and asked him about it. Skylor denied taking pills. “So what do I do,” Jonell said. 

She couldn’t stop Skylor from using drugs, including heroin, and there is nothing she can do to save his life now.

“People need to be aware. This drug is so prevalent on the rez. People are dying. Families need to speak up. Families have to stop covering up for other family members. If you know someone is using, you need to get them help,” Jonell said. 

Since Skylor’s overdose, Jonell has been asking a lot of questions. She mentioned from what she has been told, there have been at least 13 overdose cases in the last two weeks. “These dealers are not scared. They have their own supply of Narcan,” Jonell said. She was told Skylor had a possible overdose days before the one that landed him in a coma. “They told me someone gave him Narcan, and it wasn’t the cops,” Jonell said. “So, he OD’ed and woke up to do it all over again.”

The sale of Narcan is a grey area, Ed Huppler, pharmacist at Onamia Drug, said. Most hospitals make kits to give to emergency personnel. It is not available over the counter and is very hard to get. And at a cost of about $150 a pop – either nasal or injectable – “I would doubt dealers are giving it away. It is very expensive,” Huppler said. 

Jonell blames the justice system as well as the dealers. “These dealers are not afraid of law enforcement. When they do get arrested, they are let out of jail right away. If they do get charged, they are given a slap on the wrist and sent back out on the streets to sell more drugs. The blame goes to the county attorney for not prosecuting these drug dealers.”

Skylor’s case is under active investigation.

It is too late to help Skylor. Of that, Jonell is 100 percent sure. “But people need to help in this area,” she said. “Step up. Speak up. Do something. If I can help keep one person from going through what we are going through, then Skylor’s life, or death, will mean something greater than just an overdose.”

Source: Mille Lacs Messanger

 

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