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Ex-Addict Defies Odds, Becomes Nursing School Graduate

Man Goes From Heroin Addict to Nurse

This is a time of year when many students are celebrating graduation — but for one University of Washington nursing major, the pomp and circumstance is a milestone on a long climb up from the bottom.

Eric Seitz, 30, says he had a happy life growing up, being involved in sports and spending time with his family.

But fast forward to the week before Thanksgiving in 2008, when the 24-year-old found himself waking up from a coma in a Seattle hospital due to a "flesh eating" bacteria he got from heroin injections.

Seitz says he sought the independence and freedom many teenagers crave when he turned to the streets.

"I was sleeping in a lot of church stoops. Anything that would cover me from the rain," NBC affiliate KING reported.

That's when, Seitz says, he really went off the radar, avoiding his family and using shoplifting to feed his growing addiction.

READ MORE: UW Nursing Graduate Defies the Odds

"I was just wandering the streets of Seattle, kind of like a ghost," Seitz said. "Didn't feel like living or dying. It's a really scary place to be."

After damaging all his veins, he injected the drugs directly into his muscle tissue. "It felt like getting a really bad tetanus shot ... every single day," Seitz told the station.

One morning was different and that's when a friend took him to a nearby hospital, a trip he doesn't remember.

Eric Seitz
University of Washington graduate, Eric Seitz, defies the odds King 5

The bacteria, necrotizing fasciitis, had spread throughout most of his right leg.

"It will double itself every eight minutes," Seitz's surgeon at Haborview Medical Center, Dr. Hugh Foy told KING. "You can almost watch the infection spread."

While spending nearly two months in the hospital, Seitz says he had a lot of time to think, and watch the nurses helping him day in and day out.

That's when he made the decision to make a change and help others in similar situations.

"He's done it all himself," his father David told KING. "He did this. With grants, scholarships, hard work. He just committed himself to a completely different path."

Seitz received a public health degree before most recently graduating as class president from nursing school.

He says it wasn't always easy, but working in community outreach with people that are still using helps him stay away from drugs.

"His heart is with people who are struggling with different kinds of adversities," Josephine Ensign, an Associate Professor in the University of Washington School of Nursing told KING.

The journey has reaffirmed the simple things he needs in life, Seitz says.

"A warm bed and compassionate friends and family," Seitz said. "Everything else is just a bonus."