GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A mother whose son died after struggling with sexual abuse and severe drug addiction has been told her life span can be measured in months.
But she wants to use the time she has to tell the story of her son in the hopes it can inspire those who also struggle.
Julie Stehouwer lost her 26-year-old son, Adam, in October 2017.
“He was fun-loving and inquisitive, extremely intelligent, told that by the school system repeatedly every year,” Stehouwer said.
He was a student in the Jenison Public Schools District, where he made many friends and was by all accounts a happy kid.
“Until one day, that happy face was gone, and the struggle started,” Stehouwer said.
She says Adam and his younger brother, Brett, were abused sexually by a convicted felon but who could not be convicted.
But Adam never wanted to talk about it.
Adam would turn to stolen pain killers, opiates and then prescribed Xanax.
While at Western Michigan University, his Xanax prescription expired. He turned to heroin when he returned home to his mother.
“He came home one day and fell in the back of the house into my arms and said ‘I need help,’” Stehouwer said.
He entered multiple rehab facilities and struggled with the addiction. He overdosed multiple times, where he was rescued with Narcan.
“I want people to know that an addict on the street is just as important as somebody who needs type 2 diabetic insulin pen,” Stehouwer said
In the nine years before he died of a massive heart attack in a garage near 44th Street SE and Madison Avenue, Adam kept hundreds of pages of journals.
In those journals found after his death, his mother found out the truth about his struggles.
“What’s in writing and what Brett went through, you can live in denial. My son is gone so I have to live in reality,” Stehouwer said.
She says he worked hard to stay clean before his heart attack. He wrote about it in page after page that showed his artistic flair and creativity.
“He said ‘I didn’t wake up one morning to be a drug addict, mom,’ but the pain got him,” Stehouwer said.
Adam’s brother, Brett, is three years younger. However, Adam called his baby brother his hero for his determination to overcome his own abuse and addiction.
“What I learned from Adam is try to be as good of a person as he was,” Brett said. “At the end of the day, if you called him and said I need help, I need someone to come stay with me, he’d, 2 in the morning, he’d say ‘mom, I got to go.”
But even as her sons struggled, she found out there her own life was in jeopardy.
She has 30% capacity of her lungs due to a condition related to bronchitis and uncontrolled asthma. She has nearly suffocated on multiple occasions, leading to multiple surgeries.
Her outlook is not good.
“My doctor said ‘Julie, you’re dying’ and I said ‘yeah, I know, Ok, how long?’ he said 48 months if you don’t get it together’ well, what’s get it together?” she said.
She has lived two years of the four-year diagnosis and wants to spend whatever time she is working to find a publisher to get her son’s story told in his words.
“We’re alive and we want to tell Adam’s story,” she said.