ELWOOD, Ind. — A Pipe Creek Township firefighter, who was critically ill with COVID-19 for months, is now out of the hospital.
Justin Guillemette inspired others to get vaccinated this summer, after his severe and life-threatening experience. He hopes his journey continues to encourage others to protect themselves and their families.
Even life's simple things, like spending time on the back patio or getting a haircut, are more treasured now by Guillemette. He's home, getting healthy, for the first time since mid-July.
And he's thankful for the community support that got his family through the battle of their lives.
"Yeah, I definitely appreciate everybody's prayers and support. It's just been overwhelming," he said. "There was a lot of people that didn't think, even the doctors didn't think, I was either ever coming off the vent or ever wake up."
The Air Force veteran and volunteer firefighter battled COVID-19, unvaccinated, for two months.
He has no memory of the five weeks spent unconscious and intubated in the ICU at different hospitals in two different states. He and his doctors call his survival a miracle.
"That's the way I feel, because I've seen pictures of when I was on the ECMO machine and it was just unreal," Guillemette said. "I always thought that (COVID-19) is not going to affect me, but it has dramatically."
Guillemette's wife, Holli, was candid about her husband's vaccine hesitancy when 13News first shared their story in July. His journey inspired at least 100 others to get their shot at a clinic this summer.
"It was a little bit of a battle between he and I," Holli said. "He felt he was taking enough proper protocols and the people around him that he would be OK...and it hit him like a ton of bricks. They always say hindsight's 20/20. Hopefully, it's not too late."
The situation was dire.
COVID-19 complications collapsed his lung and nearly required a double-lung transplant at The Ohio State University Hospital in Columbus.
But Guillemette finally regained consciousness Aug. 19, on his wedding anniversary, and he has been celebrating mini-milestones ever since.
"Here I am exceeding everybody's expectations, apparently," he said.
Last week, Justin, still fragile and 50 pounds lighter from his fight, made a surprise homecoming for his daughter at her game at the high school.
"She had a home game here in town and my wife told her coach," Guillemette said, "and the coach pulled Kaylee out with her eyes closed and counted to three and opened her eyes and I was sitting right there in front of her. It was a big deal!"
He's now cherishing family time and his renewed faith. But his physical recovery is far from over.
Guillemette does need oxygen at night and starts rehab this week.
"I still get winded doing simple things like walking around the house, getting dressed," he explained.
After the battle of a lifetime, Justin's journey is getting easier - slowly.
He is grateful for the support that got him here and grateful for his survival. But he also knows the fight didn't have to be this hard and hopes others learn that lesson before it's too late.
"I've told people numerous times, just since I've been home, 'Hey, maybe if I'd had the vaccination before all this, it wouldn't have been that severe,'" he said.
Guillemette plans to get vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine next week.
He also hopes to return to the volunteer fire department and start saving lives again, if and when he's medically cleared to do so.