“Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy.
Human beings have the awesome ability to take any experience of their lives
and create a meaning that disempowers them or one that can literally save their lives.”
Brandon was born in Riverside, California in 1991. He was a happy child who grew up in a middle-class neighborhood with his Mom, Dad, Sister and cats. Brandon loved cats. Brandon had a happy childhood and was the happiest in our family. Even as a little boy, Brandon’s positive, happy attitude was actually an inspiration to us as he was kind, caring and always thinking about other people first…especially his sister. Everywhere we went, he would see something he thought Jenna would like and wanted to get it for her.
Brandon’s sensitive heart was my greatest inspiration as he brought back to realization how beautiful it is to think from your heart and let go of all the nonsense. That was who Brandon was, and I couldn’t believe that this little boy with only a few years on earth was such an inspiration to me. I found myself many times when I was upset about something saying, “what would Brandon think of his Mom if he knew I was thinking this way”? And that thought of Brandon would calm me down and make me realize that this insignificant problem was nothing, and I would let it go.
As a child in elementary school, he was the same way. Popular because of his outgoing and giving personality, he had a lot of friends. Some of his classmates, however, took advantage of Brandon’s giving nature, but Brandon never even noticed that. All he knew was that it made him feel good to think about others.
Brandon had a special way of expressing how much he loved me by doing what I called “huggies”. Every time we passed each other at home he would stop and say “huggies Mom”, and then we would hug each other and go on our way. Even as a pre-teen, when many kids are calling CPS on their parents and calling them names, Brandon was doing “huggies”. I never realized at that time how much that would someday, touch me as one of my most cherished memories of him.
It wasn’t until his parents divorced that he started to change. He was ten years old at the time, and the change was rapid and extreme. His sensitive heart was devastated by the divorce and his behavior reflected his pain. It showed in the way he dressed, wearing all black, he was ditching school, chose a new crowd of friends with similar behavior, stopped doing homework and resorted to hibernating in his bedroom without much interaction with family or his friends. I didn’t know what to do. It was crushing for me to see him like that. I knew the Brandon he was inside and this was not him.
Our divorce was when Brandon’s life took a turn for the worse. He never came out of the depression that started at that time in his life. Instead, to escape his pain he turned to everything negative including substance abuse. He started with prescription drugs that he was prescribed from the counselors we were taking him to. He would overdose intentionally hoping to kill his pain. I tried everything I could to help him. I had no idea of where to start and my life plummeted as well. I couldn’t work, sleep, think, function…whatever adjective you want to use, I felt helpless. I was so worried about him that I wouldn’t leave him alone on the weekends. I called them suicide watch weekends.
When Brandon turned thirteen, he decided to live with his Dad. At his Dad’s, Brandon ran free. His Dad was gone most of the time so Brandon was free to do what he wanted. He stopped going to school and spent the days with other kids who were also ditching school. That is when he got into drugs. The changes in Brandon and his downward spiral were quick and serious. And those changes deeply hurt Brandon.
I can’t find any words to explain how shattering it is to be so helpless to help someone you love when they need it most, and yet you can’t. I was just as sick as Brandon, only I didn’t turn to drugs. And the story just got worse as Brandon drifted into a world a drugs, the wrong people, poor health, withdrawal, deep depression, hopelessness, and feeling that nothing would change. His negative and defeated attitude and feelings became so deeply ingrained that reason, rational thinking, hope…nothing could penetrate how “broken” he felt he was. And, so he kept using drugs to escape the ever deepening black hole he was sinking into. This is what drugs do to a person. They take over the mind with the intent to kill you…and for too many people…that’s exactly what they do.
It had been about a week since Brandon came home. He always came back home when he needed help. But this time was different…Brandon was really sick. He kept insisting he had the flu, but I knew it was something more than that. I tried to encourage him to let me take him to the ER, but he said he was too weak to even do that. “Then let me call paramedics to take you”, I said, as an alternative. Several times I tried to encourage him to get help, but he was resistant and wouldn’t cooperate. Finally, on December 14th, 2017, he came to me at about eleven p.m. and said, “ok, call the paramedics.” He couldn’t keep suffering the way he had been and he knew it.
The paramedics took him to a small local hospital, and I stayed home awaiting the call about his condition. I was no stranger to ER rooms as I had sat in them dozens (yes dozens) of times over the years with Brandon, and I knew the wait was sometimes long before any word. I had to work the next day so I felt confident that whatever was wrong, he would be treated. I was relieved he was finally getting help.
At four a.m. I got a call from the ICU doctor that I needed to come to the hospital immediately. Brandon was extremely sick and was refusing treatment. If this was his request, the hospital was obligated to comply because it was the law. None of what the doctor was saying made sense to me.
When I arrived at the hospital ICU unit, Brandon was obviously agitated and full of anxiety. He was completely irrational and acting desperate. He was refusing treatment and nothing I said was to change his mind. “This couldn’t be happening”, I thought. The doctors said they had to abide by the law and do what he wanted. “He knows his name, social security number, where he is, and that means he’s cognitive enough to make this decision” was their justification. Stunned at this logic I said “Brandon is an addict, he is likely coming down, he is extremely sick, he is out of his mind from the drugs and how sick he is, and he can’t make a rational decision in his condition”, challenging the doctors’ words. “What kind of law allows a 27-year-old, who is too sick to make a rational decision about his care, to die”, were my final words to this doctor.
I was then asked to wait in the waiting room and I didn’t know why. I called Jenna, his sister, and told her what was happening so she could come to the hospital to see her Brother and try to reason with him. It seemed like hours that I was in that waiting room. “what am I waiting for”, I thought? “why can’t I talk to someone”, “what is happening now”, what is taking so long”, were the thoughts racing in my mind. Finally, the door from ICU opened and an older doctor came into the room to talk with me. I was ready to pounce on him for making me wait so long when he said, “Wait…here’s what we are going to do”
“Brandon had agreed to treatment for his anxiety.” “We’ll give him medication for his anxiety, intubate him, and then treat him.”, was the doctors’ decision. I think that had to be one of the most profound decisions of his career. It was perfect, and it worked.
Brandon then spent the next four days in a medically induced coma. He was critical but the doctors and nurses were doing everything they could and his room in ICU was right across from the med station. I was advised he had endocarditis and sepsis and a damaged heart valve from the sepsis. Sepsis is a very serious, dangerous and sometimes fatal blood infection. If it gets into the heart and brain, it becomes even more serious. The sepsis had affected his heart and he needed a heart valve replacement. For this he had to be transferred to a larger hospital that was capable of that kind of surgery.
It was just two days later and six days after arriving at this hospital, that he was transferred to a renowned hospital (name private) for his life-saving surgery. He was there for approximately one week and then on December 27th had his first heart surgery, a valve replacement. The surgery was thought to be a success.
Two weeks later Brandon was transferred to a skilled nursing facility to finish the eight weeks of antibiotic treatment to rid his body of the sepsis. This is done through a picc-line where the antibiotic goes directly into the heart. The treatments were three times a day for two hours each for eight weeks. The skilled nursing facility was a two-hour drive from where I lived but I visited him when I could. As the weeks progressed Brandon was looking healthy, was in good spirits and rational. It was always so nice to talk with him and be with him when he was rational. Brandon was a completely different person when he was not using. His personality on drugs was so different that it was as if he had dual personalities. Actually, he did.
After his stay at the skilled nursing facility, he came home and mostly rested. On February 20th he went back to the hospital for a check-up and they found that the valve was detached (the first surgery was a failure), and he needed another surgery. Heart valve replacements are commonly done at this hospital and so this unfortunate turn of events was devastating because a second surgery so soon after the first was risky. He went back into the hospital and received the diagnosis, odds and prognosis of a second surgery. Not liking the odds Brandon AMA’d (against medical advice) himself and left. The news was too much for him to handle and he just wanted to escape. I was devastated. Brandon’s leaving meant that the doctors were less likely to cooperate with a second surgery if Brandon wouldn’t.
“If I don’t live long, you can start a foundation for me in my name to help people who struggle with drug abuse”
He made his way home and mostly stayed reclusive in his room. Late one night in March 2018, Brandon came into my room to talk with me about how he wanted his estate divided among his family. He was 27 years old. Brandon was in need of life-saving heart surgery. He was given a fifty percent chance of surviving the surgery and only a ten percent chance of a normal recovery. Under these circumstances, his organs would slowly shut down and he would end up in a vegetative state for an unknown amount of time before death. This is what he feared the most and had decided to live out the time he had left, likely only months to possibly a few years with his heart slowly dying. He didn’t want to face the possibility of a vegetative state and dying slowly from organ failure after surgery.
As a mother, all I could think about was “this can’t be happening.” I drifted in and out of listening to him as my mind was more focused on what can we do, there must be a way, and no matter what…you have to try.
I tried to convince and encourage him. “You have to try Brandon; you never give up.” “Statistics and opinions don’t necessarily mean a thing.” “People beat the odds all the time” “You have to try, and you have to have the surgery”, I pleaded with him. But he was not interested in my philosophy and encouragement, only in making his wishes known.
“If I don’t live long, you can start a foundation for me in my name to help people who struggle with drug abuse”, he said. It was his vision. This was something he was serious about. He suffered from his habit and he hated it.
“I want to stop Mom, but I don’t know how” he would tell me all the time. The hold heroin had on him was so strong that all the reason in the world didn’t make a difference. He hated his habit, his life, what he was doing to his family and other people who cared about him, and he hated the suffering caused by the withdrawals.
Brandon had been to rehab several times. He had been to detox more times than rehab. But nothing worked. He would always go back to using. The cravings were so strong, he couldn’t fight them. He would tell me that the rehab wasn’t enough. He needed more. What he needed, and he knew it, was to deal with his mind and how that was affecting his need to use. Rehab didn’t offer that…not at the level he needed. He had no hope; he felt his life would always be in a state of lack, and that he would never have the life he dreamed about and really wanted. It was definitely a mind game that the drugs played on him, and the drugs were winning. He was stuck in this black hole of thinking life would never be any different. The drugs had hijacked his brain into believing everything negative. There was no possibility, no positivity. “I’m Broken”, he would say. And in his mind, he couldn’t be repaired. For Brandon, broken was an end game
Nothing I said to him made a difference. Over the years of his addiction, I showered him optimistically with positive scenarios and positive words. I talked about how his life would be when he was off drugs. But his mind frame and his negative attitude of himself was impenetrable. Still I never stopped trying to encourage him. I refused to give up. He wasn’t like that as a little boy growing up and the Brandon on drugs was not the Brandon inside. Drugs have such a powerful effect on the body and the mind, and he was functioning mentally from what I used to call a “heroin mind-frame.” His attitude about himself was that he was broken and worthless.
“Drugs have one job and that is to kill you…
to persuade you, entice you, overcome your life until they kill you”.
Rey, recovering addict
The Brandon he was while using was nothing like the person he was sober. What I learned is that drugs take over the brain. Many times, people start out experimenting with a drug, and then the drug catches them. Once the drug is in the system is when it becomes difficult to control. The thinking is irrational and twisted. The user becomes consumed with the drug, and it takes over physically and mentally. There is a psychosis from the drug and it takes over a person’s life. Then, the drugs are in charge. “Drugs have one job and that is to kill you… to persuade you, entice you, overcome your life until they kill you”. Drugs are so powerful that a person has no power over themselves. It’s very hard to get away from this kind of power and why many people find it very difficult to stop using. They feel that drugs are the only way, and the need for drugs becomes a lifestyle.
So why do people use in the first place? Sometimes it is escape as was with Brandon. He wanted to escape a life that was too difficult for him to handle. Sensitive people have a tougher time with emotions and trauma. Besides the escape, drugs make a person feel good and give them confidence. The high is apparently amazing. But then the user becomes consumed with the drug. After using for a long period of time, it is easier to just keep using because they need it physically and mentally…they feel it is the only way. They come to love the lifestyle, to accept it, live it. I know it makes no sense, but that is the power of the drug.
In spite of the acceptance of the lifestyle, many addicts feel lost in their world. The life of a substance abuser is nothing like a non-user. The world they live in leads to an array of negative experiences. It’s scary on the streets, and that’s where some of them live temporarily. In addition, all too often the users become involved with law enforcement and their problems become even worse.
There is such a negative stigma associated with substance abusers. However, for every person reading this story, I bet each one of you know of at least one person who has or has had a problem with some kind of substance abuse. And, they are not all losers as the stigma implies. Remember there are many people addicted to prescription drugs and alcohol…both legal, but still drugs. They are people who made a bad decision and got caught up in it. Possibly they have lost their home, family, friends, health and love…everything. They are lost in a world most would rather not be associated with. They want to feel cared about…having someone who genuinely cares about them and that they feel safe with. They want love like everyone else does.
However, for some the problem is that not everyone wants to change or stop or they feel they are not ready to stop using. Or as in Brandon’s situation, he wanted to stop but didn’t know how because his addition was so strong that he was powerless over it. However, wanting it is not enough. They have to reach bottom, be so fed up with their lifestyle that they say “enough”, ask for help and make the decision to do it…to get clean.
Surprisingly, however, getting clean is easy. Staying clean is the hard part. A person can’t ever feel they are clean forever. Can’t ever think they have it under control because that is when they lose control. But when the steps are taken to actually change and stop using, the result is freedom, happiness and new life.
It wasn’t for a couple more weeks until he came to me one night and said, “ok, I’ll do it.” The next day was a Sunday and I wasn’t going to wait for the Doctors or insurance to approve a visit. We drove to the hospital where he had his first surgery and they admitted him through an ER visit. It was nine days later that he would have the second surgery to replace the dislodged heart valve.
I was advised that it would be approximately a six-hour surgery. I took the day off work and tried to keep myself occupied. Six hours came and no word. Now eight hours…I couldn’t wait any longer so I called. “He’s still in procedure” was the status the nurse related. “Ok, at least I knew he was still alive”, I thought. “They would have called me otherwise…right?”, my thoughts were bouncing around trying to put this altogether. Then ten hours, eleven hours and I couldn’t wait any longer. I called again. “He just got out of procedure and is in the recovery and it will be a few hours before we know anything more”, were her words”. “He made it”, I thought. The fifty percent fell on his side.
The surgery lasted over eleven hours and I later found out that he flatlined twice on the operating table. My admiration and gratefulness for what Doctors do to save lives just skyrocket. It was a profound moment that I realized doctors really do miracles.
A patient after heart surgery is expected to get up and walk around as soon as possible. It is not good for them to lie in bed too long. I was shocked to hear that he was walking around the ICU so soon after surgery. He had beat the odds and was improving.
Four days after the surgery the Doctor who performed his life saving surgery made the comment that Brandon was doing fantastic. The Doctor was amazed that Brandon was doing so well. He fell into the ten percent. He beat the odds again and was expected to make a full recovery.
It’s like I said to Brandon that night in March 2018. Even educated predictions don’t necessarily mean a thing when you are talking about odds.
You have to have faith that the odds will fall on your side. You have to try.
You have to give things one more chance.
There’s really no other choice other than giving up.
You have to try. You always have to try. You can’t give up on you.
Opinions, statistics don’t apply to everyone.
You could be the ten percent.
You have to try.
I can’t remember how long he was in ICU this time…a few weeks and then was released with a multitude of prescriptions. He was weak and still in some pain but his prognosis was good. His life was cut short from the damage to his heart, but time would also bring new options, hope, and medical miracles. No one really knew the future for him, but taking care of himself would make a huge difference. For now, he had another chance at life. It was May 2018.
Getting back into life was difficult. He had a couple more hospital visits due to fluid around the heart and other minor complications. But these things were not so abnormal after heart surgery. By June he was slowly trying to get back into life. He tried working a couple of jobs, but they were too physically demanding. He applied for anything. He just wanted to get back to life. “I’m going to go back to school” he said, and he was serious. It all sounded so positive and I was hopeful.
In August, he decided to move in with his girlfriend. He got a job to help pay the rent as she needed that. But his health was failing. He felt sick and weak. Finally, in September 2018 he was admitted back into the hospital. He was really sick; the infection was back and it was serious. He had endocarditis and it had again damaged his heart valve. The sepsis apparently had not been eradicated completely.
It would be approximately six to seven more weeks he spent in the hospital. His organs were failing. At first it was the kidneys, then the liver…just one new thing after another. Yet the staff felt he still had a chance and were hopeful. “We’ve got every specialty except dermatology working for Brandon” the cardiologist advised me. I could see the effort the doctors were making and I was grateful. But this time, he was in bad condition.
During the almost two months he was there he was only able to get out of bed once…in all those weeks. I knew that wasn’t good but I kept the faith and was hopeful. I knew the Doctor were doing their best. He would have to have a third heart surgery as the valve would need to be replaced but that was in the future approximately six months as he had to recover from the organ damage and have time to heal.
For reasons I won’t go into here, Brandon was transferred anyway against my wishes to an interim care hospital. I knew this was not going to be in his best interest. The day after he arrived at the interim hospital, I visited him and it was already obvious that the move was not a good decision. He was almost comatose. His condition was worse. He was yellow from liver damage. He wasn’t there very long when he developed fluid around the lungs that needed to be drained. This hospital did not have the equipment to deal with that kind of treatment and he had to be transferred to one that did. His condition was deteriorating rapidly.
On October 24th he was transferred anyway to the hospital two hours away to have the fluid drained from his lungs. The trip was long for his fragile condition. He arrived in the evening and I arrive there shortly after. He seemed non responsive, but I knew he could hear me. I kept talking to him. “This is a better hospital Brandon, you will be okay now”, I whispered into his ear. I kept saying anything to be positive. The nurses advised me that he was in extremely critical condition. They worked hard and fast to prepare him for his stay. I felt relief because he was back in a “real” hospital. I stayed with him for a while and then left so he could rest.
Shortly after I left, the ICU doctor called me and said he had gone into cardiac arrest but they revived him. He told me that this could keep happening. I didn’t know what that meant. I just thought he was going to be okay now that he was back somewhere where there was access to the equipment and care he needed.
The next morning, I went back to visit him. He was still seemingly unresponsive but I kept talking to him and holding his hand. I talked about anything just to keep talking and let him know I was there. Then I left to let him rest. I had just gotten home when I received a call from the Doctor that he was in cardiac arrest again and that it could keep happening but eventually he might not survive it. The doctor asked me what I wanted to do? “Try, of course, you have to try”, I said. But Brandon didn’t survive and he passed away in the morning of October 25th, 2018. They called me and told me and I went back to see him. I spend some time with him and then left numb and in disbelief. There were so many thoughts and feelings that went through my mind and none of them had meaning or made sense to me. I had always thought he would pull through and the doctors at his original hospital seemed positive that he would also.
Bandon’s wish was to help others who had gone into the black hole of drug abuse and life trauma. He didn’t want others to suffer as he did. This was Brandon’s vision. It is his way of helping others and giving back for all the hundreds of people who tried to help him over the years.
Here’s to you…with love, faith, hope and dreams of second chances…
No matter what has happened to you…
There is a reason if you choose to find it
There is a purpose from that reason if you choose to fulfill it
There is a new future if you choose to create it
There is new love if you choose to open up to receiving it
There is hope, and faith if you choose to believe it
And there is new life if you choose to live it
Brandon’s House is an affiliate of
The Jenna Brandon Company