Shortness of breath was just the start for Mike Mayeux. Half a foot and a half-mil later, he's trying to hang on to his house.
[Updated] Wednesday night, Governor Mitt Romney tried work his way around the pre-existing conditions question, allowing that people who had health insurance but lost it could re-get it despite pre-existing conditions, but those who were never insured would have to wait for states to craft laws to help them. In the abstract, that merely sounds problematic; put a name and face on it and impact is far more real.
Tonight, "We Heart Mike" at the House of Blues deals with that reality (and those who can't make it but want to help can do so at WePay.com). Before Hurricane Katrina, Mike Mayeux worked extensively in New Orleans, doing road sound for Dash Rip Rock for a while, engineering Continental Drifters' recordings, an album of Paul Sanchez' songs done by others in the city, and he did live sound in the Blues Tent at Jazz Fest. He was also the very tall, laidback onstage counterpart to the smaller, more energetic Skeet Hanks in Beatin Path until the post-storm flooding washed his Arabi home away. He and his family moved to Nashville, and he bought a mobile recording unit that he used to mix live video streams from Jazz Fest and to produce A Very Threadhead Holiday from outside Susan Cowsill's West Bank home.
A year-and-a-half ago, Mayeux started having health problems. "A hundred feet was as far as I could walk without having to stop and catch my breath," he says. "That went on for all of last year. 2011 began with me coughing up blood." That led to some lifestyle changes. No cigarettes, only the occasional beer. "Coughing up blood is one of those things that freaks you out."
Mayeux was born with a defective heart valve, and he always knew that at some point, likely in his 40s, he'd have to deal with it. He knew the shortness of breath was the first sign, but because it was a condition he was born with, he couldn't get health insurance. He had to save what he could and work when he could, including corporate gigs he really didn't want to prepare as best he could for the inevitable.
He spent part of 2011 dealing with pneumonia, and was hospitalized for that in New Orleans a week before surgery on his heart valve was scheduled in Nashville. After his operation, complications set in.
"Pneumonia again. There were some issues with the lungs. They wound up using heparin on me, and that had a reaction called a 'hit' - a heparin-induced-thrombocytopenia. It stopped blood flow through my foot. Every place in your foot that gets blood flow through your veins - it stopped it all, so my foot started to die on the vine." Gangrene set in, and at the time of this interview earlier this month, he was in the hospital waiting for the gangrene to separate from the live tissue so they could amputate the dead, infected part of his foot.
While waiting, the most Mayeux could do was go home at lunch for a few hours; otherwise, he lived in the hospital. Needless to say, that has brought his income to a halt. Before going into the hospital, he made a deal with the hospital to pay $65,000, but because of the complications, his bill has passed a half-million dollars. "I may not be done with this mess until the end of the year," he says. He certainly expects to stay in the hospital for another three months. "Things got complicated really fast."
The foot problems are painful, but the impact of a year without income is harder. "You can't talk to a mortage company, although I tried," he says. "They were like, 'Oh well. We'll have to go through the procedure and foreclose on you, but we won't kick you out right away.'"
There has been an upside - the signs of affection and concern from people he has worked with. Tonight, Papa Grows Funk, Bonerama, Susan Cowsill, Paul Sanchez, The Creole String Beans and more will perform at the benefit, and friends including Beatin Path bandmate Skeet Hanks have worked to stock silent auction tables. Recently, Alexandra Scott visited WWOZ and spent an hour playing songs Mayeux had recorded or performed on. "I haven't heard this stuff since I recorded it," he says. "I got to hear the ones that worked."
If things go according to plan, he'll only lose the toes and have a "Dempsey," as he calls it, referring to Saints' kicker Tom Dempsey, who lacked toes on his kicking foot. "I don't need a foot to mix," he says. Unfortunately, even before he was hospitalized, he work load was light because Nashville's recording business has been in decline since 2008. He's recorded Trace Adkins and done some country work, but even before his health issues kicked in, business was on the wane. "People were calling me looking for work. I said, 'Waitaminute - this is supposed to be your town.'"
Updated October 6, 12:12 p.m.
Information on how people who missed the concert can contribute was added after initial publication.
A Beatin Path show at Carrollton Station with Mike Mayeux on lead vocals.