Burly Bakers owner on his major health issues and steroid use in the gay community
By PATRICK SAUNDERS
If there is anyone who is glad to see 2015 in the rearview mirror, it’s Burly Bakers owner Will Armstrong. Major health issues last spring led to a diagnosis of congestive heart failure for the gay 42-year-old Atlanta resident, keeping him in the hospital for six weeks straight and causing him to temporarily close the bakery and his IT consulting business.
Armstrong, who used to go by Bill but now prefers Will, adorned our annual Dining and Drink issue in Dec. 2014, a few months before his health troubles began. We sat down with him again one recent Monday afternoon, and he opened up about what happened, what role his steroid use had in it, and how the community helped him get on the path to recovery.
Soon after we last spoke for the Burly Bakers cover story, you started to have the health issues. Tell me about what happened.
So in May, I was short of breath and had been feeling bad. I ended up going to the outpatient clinic and was sent from there over to the ER at Crawford Long. It turned out it was kidney failure from lack of blood from lack of heart performance. Then it turned out to be congestive heart failure.
It was a rough few months. There was a period of a couple months there where it was a lot of uncertainty as to whether I would survive it or not. I applied for disability and had to close both my IT consulting business and the bakery for a while. My heart was pretty severely damaged.
But I’m still recovering. I’m definitely not 100 percent, nowhere near it. I’m still on an IV infusion that runs around the clock and they’re still considering me for a heart transplant. The future is still a little uncertain.
What was done medically and personally to get you out of those first few months when it was unclear if you would survive?
steroids and they think steroid abuse was a big part of what caused the heart failure. I was big, I was 247 pounds, and that alone puts a lot of pressure on the heart.
I’ve been on a very reduced sodium diet. Very clean living and just a very peaceful life, very stress-free. And lots and lots of medication, I’m on 14 medications now. This IV infusion they have me on is considered a bridge to transplant drug and it’s a pretty heavy duty one that saved my life in June. I think the steroids had a lot to do with it and dropping 50 pounds, that certainly made a difference.
What about medical expenses? Did you have insurance?
Thank God for President Obama and the Affordable Care Act [laughs] because I was insured. I’ve had $400,000 in medical bills since May. Thank God for the ACA because that’s the thing that saved my ass. I’ve had excellent care.
Also some people set up a GoFundMe campaign for me, and between that and another fundraiser they did it gave me $15,000 in cash, which really carried me through because when I got sick I completely lost my income altogether. The community helped me out a lot.
So how was your mindset while all of this was going on and what got you through it?