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‘Not Even Once’ benefit warns of drug dangers, pays tribute to Sean Needham

A mother remembers, raises awareness
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal features editor
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Sean Needham and his family went through hell the past year, and while their struggles ended tragically with the death of Needham at age 26, his mother is pulling the community together to try to stop others from going through similar pain.

It was just over a year ago that Needham lost his job and was having other personal struggles, said his mom, Rhonnie Martin, of Foresthill. She is open about the fact that her son, a Colfax High School graduate, made bad decisions about drug use – the most devastating one being using a hypodermic needle to inject himself with melted Oxycontin.

“Someone just said, ‘Here, this will make you feel better,’” said Martin, unaware at the time that her son was using.

She found out during Needham’s ensuing battle. After that first injection, he developed an infection in his leg. The ingredients in Oxy that make it time-release in the digestive system wear down veins, so Needham couldn’t get the antibiotics he needed. He was given a peripherally inserted central ca-theter, which fed the medicine straight to a vein in his chest. But because Needham was suspected of using, the doctors couldn’t send him home with the PICC line and so he stayed in the hospital for six weeks, which would become a trend, his mother said, adding that he was only home about six weeks out of the year.

Needham attempted rehab in Oregon, but was told he needed to be home with his doctors who knew how to treat his infection. He had to have a heart valve transplant thanks to the Oxy’s effects, and later developed severe vasculitis in his leg that resulted in a swollen and incredibly painful limb. Through it all, Martin said, the cycle was that Needham, whose system had already built up a tolerance to drugs, couldn’t get enough of the painkillers he needed and he was addicted to those he was allowed to have. He was characterized as a patient with “drug-seeking behavior,” Martin said, making it a constant challenge to treat his symptoms.

When he died in July, Martin said, he was suffering from compartment syndrome, which compresses nerves, blood vessels and muscles, resulting in tissue death.

“I think I’d be looking for drugs, too,” she said, recalling with teary eyes how much pain Needham was in. “Any normal human being would, addicted or not.”

Needham’s leg couldn’t be treated with an angioplasty because of his poor veins, and the swelling became so bad he had to have a fasciotomy, where the leg was surgically flayed open and left that way, with constant care, to relieve pressure. But after several dangerous arterial bleeds, amputation was necessary.

Once he was in recovery, Martin said, her son started not feeling well and was in pain, lethargic and sweating profusely. Along with an infection in his stump, Needham had gone septic and his organs were shutting down.

By the time Martin got to the hospital, Needham was intubated. The medical team fought to keep him alive through the night, but the next day, July 15, the decision was made to take him off the breathing machine, as there was so much damage that his brain would never recover.

Marla Gordon, Martin’s dear friend and the “adopted aunt” of Needham and his brother, Chad, said the whole family was at the hospital when he passed.

“They just let everybody in there and everybody got to say, or pray, or hug and kiss him goodbye,” she said. “It was pretty awesome, that part.”

Needham’s family in-cludes his dad, Patrick Needham, stepbrother Nick Needham, wife, Lauren, 4-year-old daughter Tiffani and 6-year-old stepson Sean.

It was thinking of the children that led Martin and a group of family and friends to organize “Not Even Once,” a benefit concert Aug. 31 to raise money for the kids. But it’s also to raise awareness of a drug epidemic that can quickly change, and end, lives.

“I just can’t figure out any other way to get this across to other parents: Pay attention,” Martin said.

The event will include performances by local bands Irrelevant, Skin of Saints and GerAnimO, who have donated their time. Artists Debbie Combee-Pollard and Myles Martin have donated paintings for a silent auction. Both were friends with Needham.

Those are just a few examples of how much the community has stepped forward to help, Martin said, from Pistol Pete’s donating the space and businesses donating raffle items to the efforts of Norm Kendall and the Auburn Amputee Group. They supported Needham through the amputation process, and when Kendall found out he had died, he and the group paid for the food at his memorial – after only meeting the young man twice.

Needham’s grandmother, Eleanor, said she was disappointed when she found out her grandson had been using drugs. She understands the consequences well – in addition to her experience with Needham, she worked at the jail in the 1990s and has studied addiction.

“It takes over your body, your mind, everything,” she said. “The most important thing to you is getting that fix, whatever that is. It can be alcohol or getting that cigarette that you want so bad – it could be anything.”

While she watched her grandson drop more than 100 pounds through his fight and struggle with so many health issues, she said, she’ll always remember him as the good person he always was.

“”He was extremely nice, he had a lot of heart, he cared about everybody and everything, and that’s my big memory of him,” she said. “He was a very caring person, a very loving person.”

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at krissik@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter, @AuburnJournalAE.

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Not Even Once benefit concert

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31

Where: Pistol Pete’s, 140 Harrison Ave., Auburn

Cost: $10 cover; 21 and over only

Info: (530) 320-0375, (530) 401-8814 or 

follow the event on Facebook