Indiana firefighter hospitalized with COVID-19, family begs people to take it seriously


ELWOOD, Ind. — COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Indiana as 786 additional Hoosiers tested positive Friday. It brings the total number of confirmed cases to more than 764,000.

One man, a U.S. Air Force veteran and Pipe Creek Township firefighter tested positive himself last week – he’s currently in Indianapolis at Ascension St. Vincent Hospital fighting for his life. 

Family and friends describe Justin Guillemette as a ‘larger than life hero’, loving husband and dad, who unfortunately didn’t take COVID-19 seriously. 

“He didn’t believe in the shot and now… he’s where he’s at sadly,” Guillemette’s wife Holli said. “It’s just frustrating cause I hear the same things from people over and over… “I’m not getting it. I don’t believe in it” … blah blah blah, my husband was one of those people… I’m not gonna lie and now his karma was basically getting it.”

After receiving their first round of vaccinations Friday – Guillemette’s family urges everyone to do the same.

“Just don’t take it for granted. I mean it’s a free shot and all it can do is help. Even if it’s just a little bit. It’s gotta be better than what he’s going through right now,” Holli said. “It’s devastating. I told the nurse and I spoke with the ICU doctor today and I said my husband has saved so many lives over the years that we just want God to save him too.”

Guillemette’s battle with COVID only began last week. His family is unsure where or how he caught it, Guillemette himself can no longer say.

“He didn’t say that he lost his taste or smell at first, none of that, it just started with the dizziness and then it was like he got real stuffy real quick, after he first went to the hospital we’d call and check on him and we could hear him coughing and he’d go into a coughing fit,” Holli said. “It was like it went from not even necessarily cold symptoms, but it just went from nothing to very very bad. And he’s a really big guy so… we don’t understand how it could’ve affected him that quickly.”

Nearly as quickly as it happened, he was transferred to Ascension St. Vincent in Indianapolis and placed on not only a ventilator but also an ECMO, short for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine. 

He would now die without it.

“Oh, this goes beyond ventilator. ECMO is a machine that takes the blood, pulls it from the body, in one tube, and filters it through a machine, pulls out Carbon Dioxide and puts oxygen back into the blood,” Holli said. “He is in rough shape. They told us today the ECMO is helping some. But he is a bigger guy so ECMO is not working 100% on him like it would someone who is built smaller, like me. So, it’s going to take longer, I think, for his body to try and heal. They told us today that it could be weeks that he’ll be on ECMO.”

Weeks that his family, friends, and fire department have to find strength without him.

“He’s an amazing man. He’s loved. We miss him. We want him home,” Holli said. “We need prayers. He needs an army and his fire department – our local fire department our friends, our family – they have been our biggest army. But the more that pray, the better we are and that’s the hard part. You know they give their life to help everyone else and now he’s in the fight of his life.”

But the fight is not his alone. His community has rallied by hosting a prayer vigil Thursday, his friends are selling sweet corn to raise money, they’ve also created a GoFundMe to help support his family and his fellow firefighters have also stepped up to help.

“A lot of people talk about being close-knit, a family, we are literally a family. This happens, we step up and make sure our own are taken care of,” Pipe Creek Fire Department Chief Richard Shepherd said. “Justin’s the type of guy that, when somebody needs something…. He’s there. Our hope is he’ll come back, and we can get back to normal one day with him. If anybody can fight this. It will be him.”

It’s unclear if Guillemette was infected with the Delta Variant, his family hopes to learn more in the coming days.

“We were all really in shock,” Holli said. “It shocks me that we’ve made it this far and we thought… not that we’re necessarily in the clear, because it can happen to anyone, but we felt like we had made it through the heart of COVID, what has been so bad for the world and it happened to us now. We just hope people learn from this and take it seriously if they could see my husband… I think anyone would want to get vaccinated right now. I have told so many people you don’t ever want to be in our position where you have to watch someone you love fighting for every breath and not knowing day to day if you’re going to get a phone call that that’s it.”

Ascension St. Vincent released this statement to FOX59 on the recent rise in COVID cases:

“Recently, we’ve seen a notable and concerning increase in patients requiring hospitalization for COVID-19. Most of these patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, and we cannot stress enough the importance of getting vaccinated and encouraging your loved ones to get vaccinated, as well. The approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and the benefits of being vaccinated outweigh any identified risks or side effects.”

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