Burly Bak­ers owner on his ma­jor health is­sues and steroid use in the gay com­mu­nity

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

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?

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