PERHAM, Minn. — On the morning of July 7, a few Perham residents came across a young woman whose body was moving as if she had no control over it. The residents walked up to her and tried to speak with her, but she was catatonic.

They called the police department who came out with an ambulance, and the woman was taken to Perham Health emergency room.

It's likely that that phone call saved Lacey's life.

Lacey was six months sober when she relapsed, the day before, July 6.

"I don't know who they are, but me and my family are so grateful for them and want them to know we're thankful," said Margaret Rousu, Lacey's mother.

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After being taken to the ER in Perham, Lacey was holding herself and crying as if she were in pain. Her lung was collapsing, and her body was shutting down. She was taken to an intensive care unit in Fargo, where she was put on a breathing machine and in a medically induced coma.

"You don't know what this does to a mother, to see your child in a state of coma with a respirator," Rousu said. "When I saw her, I broke down. I couldn't breathe. That's all I could do. As the mother of an addict, you never know what will happen with your child. You never know if you'll ever see them again."

Rousu, who lives in Callaway, Minn., as a part of the White Earth Indian Reservation, said it's incredibly difficult to get an adult struggling with addiction the help they need. Lacey, 27, has struggled with drug addiction since her late teens. Since 2018, because of drug use, she has been in and out of psychosis.

When in a state of psychosis, Lacey will walk through the woods barefoot and in shorts for miles, Rousu said. One time, Lacey was talking to the trees and flowers.

Her mother could not get Lacey the help she needed.

At the end of 2020, Lacey was in another state of psychosis when, according to Rousu, she wasn't responding properly. She had a screwdriver and was tapping the blunt end on a wall.

"It worried me," Rousu said. "Not because she was going to hurt me but because of her state of mind." She called a mental health help line who instructed her to call the police since Lacey didn't want to go to the hospital.

"(The officer) reassured me they were taking her to the hospital, and I was so relieved," Rousu continued. However, she later found out her daughter was in a holding cell after being cleared for jail, where she was facing criminal assault charges.

Rousu hadn't been told.

"What if the hospital had recognized this as a mental health thing and not a criminal thing?" Rousu said, "The whole system is so messed up."

After jumping through more hoops, Margaret was able to get the charges against Lacey dropped and get her taken to a hospital where she was committed. Eventually, she ended up at the Rewind Center in Perham.

Generational trauma

As of Monday, July 12, Lacey's kidneys are in much better condition, and she is awake. (Submitted)
As of Monday, July 12, Lacey's kidneys are in much better condition, and she is awake. (Submitted)

As said by the National Institutes of Health, Native American individuals are 1.2 times more likely to suffer from kidney failure than white people. According to the CDC, 25% of Indigenous adults have fair or poor health, whereas 14.1% of non-Hispanic white adults have fair or poor health.

Rousu said that Lacey's story is common among young Indigenous people. Her son and brother have also struggled with addiction. She continued to say that this goes back to generational trauma, due to the historical genocide Indigenous people faced. As Rousu has gotten older, she's learned who she is as Native American through considering that trauma.

"If Lacey's story can change one person's choice on using or dealing, if that can happen to one person, that can change generations of people," Rousu said. "You can make one change, and it impacts the next generation."

As of Tuesday, July 20, Lacey is doing much better. She's been released from the hospital and has been placed in a safe location to work on her recovery as she and her mother look for a treatment center that will meet her needs. Rousu said the doctors didn't think Lacey would be doing as well as she is now.

Lacey's doctor told Rousu that everything that happened to Lacey was due to drug-triggered psychosis. The doctor said that, because Lacey's young, her body can still heal itself.

"(The doctor) told us there are way too many people from our area who live with kidney failure," Rousu said. "And to me, this spoke so strongly about the health disparities that happen with Indigenous people."

Rousu was shocked by just how much damage one use after six months of sobriety can cause. She encourages anyone struggling with addiction to think about the impact drug use can have on their own health and on those they care about.

She emphasized how important it was to thank the Perham residents who got her daughter help. She believes that, with so many horrible things happening in the world, it's hard to remember that there are good people sometimes. To her, this shows that there are good people out there who care.

"Thank you. I know in my heart that she wouldn't be with us today if they hadn't done that," Rousu said about those residents. "It really reassures me, as a human being, that human beings are still good."

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration national helpline at 1-800-622-4357.