Mom: NJ woman, seen nearly dead on heroin, got the wakeup call she needed
Kelly Hemphill had no idea her daughter's heroin problem had gotten so out-of-control until she saw a YouTube video of the 25-year-old's lifeless body being revived on the side of the road.
She's not the only one who viewed the disturbing images. The dramatic nine-minute video of Kelly Mae, who also goes by Kel-Mae Demore, has been viewed more than 175,000 times since last month.
In the video, Kel-Mae Hemphill lies on the side of the road as her brother Rob and bystanders attempt to give her CPR. Paulsboro police soon arrive and administer a dose of the heroin antidote Narcan. Within minutes, she regains color in her face and begins breathing shallowly before paramedics and EMTs arrive and transport her to a hospital.
In recent years, this has become an all-to-frequent scenario across New Jersey as communities struggle with a serious opioid addiction epidemic
Initially, Kel-Mae Hemphill and her family were upset that such a private and upsetting aspect of their lives had gone viral on social media. But now, as Kel-Mae Hemphill continues to battle her addiction at Recovery Unplugged, a Florida rehab facility specializing in music-based therapy, Kelly Hemphill says she's actually grateful to Idrise Maxey-Carmichael, the woman who filmed the video and uploaded it to YouTube.
Kelly Hemphill told New Jersey 101.5 that the experience definitely shook up her daughter. It was a wakeup call for her as well, because she was unaware of how serious Kel-Mae's heroin problem had become, she said.
"I absolutely hated the video," Kelly Hemphill said. "At first I didn’t even know what I was looking at. When I watched it I was devastated."
Kel-Mae Hemphill herself didn't watch the gruesome video for several days, avoiding it until the night before she left for rehab, her mother said.
"I heard her in the other room crying and when I went in I asked what was wrong, and she said 'I'm watching the video,'" Kelly Hemphill said.
The Paulsboro native said Kel-Mae Hemphill's heroin overdose wasn't the first time one of her children has become unconscious because of the drug, but it was certainly the worst. She recalls a phone call from her son, explaining that he had to call 911 because Kel-Mae Hemphill had "passed out" and was unresponsive. She said despite rumors that her daughter had collapsed while walking down the road, the situation unfolded differently.
Kel-Mae Hemphill passed out while riding in her brother’s car on a Sunday in February. While they were stopped on Crown Point Road in West Deptford, her brother Rob made the call to 911. The dispatcher instructed Rob to pull his sister out of the car and carefully lay her on the ground to begin CPR. Bystanders and first-responders arrived within minutes. Kel-Mae Hemphill was hospitalized and later released.
Unfortunately, Kelly Hemphill said, heroin addiction is something her entire immediate family has had to deal with for years.
I'm getting tired of going to the funeral homes.
“All of us are in recovery,” said Hemphill, who has been clean since 2008.
Her other children are also clean at the moment, although it's a constant battle to stay that way, she said. Kelly Hemphill said things had gotten so bad that last year, she contacted the television show "Intervention" in a last-ditch attempt to help her family. At the time, Kel-Mae Hemphill resisted, not wanting her personal life broadcast to the public.
Kelly Hemphill said in addition to her family's struggles, many friends have lost their lives to opioid addiction.
"I'm getting tired of going to the funeral homes," she said, adding that between recent deaths and her daughter's ordeal her family "has been through so much in the past month."
Kelly Hemphill said the reaction from people who saw the disturbing footage has ranged from sympathetic to chastising. Recently, however, Kel-Mae Hemphill told her mother that she has been receiving mail while in recovery from people who say they're praying for her, Kelly Hemphill said.
"People really do care I'm alive," Kelly Hemphill said her daughter told her during a recent phone call.
The support from her family and strangers, along with recovery program she's in have done wonders for Kel-Mae Hemphill, according to her mother.
“She’s doing real good. She looks so amazing, so different just in a little short period of time,” Kelly Hemphill said, adding that when she first arrived in Florida, Kel-Mae fought against the program. But things soon turned around. “Her whole attitude has changed.”
Kel-Mae Hemphill is due to come home later this month. Her mom said Kel-Mae Hemphill will have a lot of challenges to face including custody issues with her own young daughter, but Kelly Hemphill is proud of how far Kel-Mae — and all of her children — have come and how hard they've worked toward staying clean.
Kelly Hemphill said heroin addiction is truly terrifying in New Jersey and the problem is getting worse. Days after the video of Kel-Mae Hemphill went public, her mother said, she was contacted by drug users who asked where her daughter obtained the heroin that caused her to have such a dramatic reaction. It's not that they were trying to avoid it, Kelly Hemphill said, it's that they were looking to score the potent opioid for themselves.
As much as she hopes the video of Kel-Mae Hemphill will help people struggling with opoid addiction, her mother said, someone with a severe drug problem will probably avoid watching it.
"Nobody is watching that video who’s using dope," she said, adding that something has to be done to help curb this problem in New Jersey. "If somebody doesn’t do something about this there’s not gonna be any kids left in that age group. It’s so sad, I’m tired to going to funerals. It keeps hitting close to home."
Toniann Antonelli is the digital managing editor for news at NJ 101.5. Reach her at email@example.com, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.