GENEVA –– Mary Kay Lathey said her son, Jeremy, “fought to come into the world,’’ recalling the difficult labor and birth of her first child.
And after being severely injured in a horrific 2007 fire, she said, he “fought to stay in this world.’’
Jeremy Lathey lost his battle Sunday after nearly four agonizing — but courageous — years.
A Geneva firefighter since he was 18, the legal age to join, the 24-year-old died at Geneva General Hospital of complications from the injuries he suffered in an April 18, 2007, fire in his family’s garage.
Speaking at the family’s 64 West St. home, his parents and sister, Melissa, reflected on Jeremy’s life and how they will miss him.
“He struggled with things his whole life because he had serious vision problems,’’ said his father, Steve.
“He had to work extra hard to get things done. But he got things done. Nothing came easy for him,’’ he said.
His mother said he was stubborn in that he did not give up on things he started, even though he got frustrated.
“He loved to do things with his hands, and he loved to help other people,’’ his mother recalled, smiling. “He loved cars. He enjoyed working on Cruisin’ Night downtown and went to school for mechanics. He was hired at the Mike Barnard dealership a few months before the accident, which, of course, involved working on a car.”
Last year his mother faced knee surgery. Jeremy had lost both arms by then, couldn’t talk, couldn’t walk, and his internal organs were failing, but he worried about his mother.
After graduating from Geneva High School in 2005, Lathey attended Baran Institute of Technology to study automotive technology.
He worked for Red’s Body Shop west of Geneva for a while. His parents said he liked going out on the tow truck to help people get out of ditches.
“He simply liked to help others,’’ his father said.
The fire department also was very important to him.
“He did anything he could to help out around the station. He went on calls when he could and wanted to live at the station as a bunker so he could be more independent,’’ his father said.
When he was only 2 and his mother was pregnant with his sister, the Latheys said, Jeremy helped name the baby.
“The only name we mentioned to him that he said he liked was Melissa. He wanted her middle name to be Kay after me,’’ his mother said.
Melissa said her older brother was typical in the ways he would torment and bug her.
“I’d give it right back to him. We got along great, and I miss him,’’ she said, adding that she was the only one Jeremy wanted to change his bandages.
“We’ve lost a spectacular kid. None can replace him,’’ his mother said.
She hardly left his side when he was hospitalized for long stretches in Rochester or Geneva.
The Latheys have lots of praise for the staff at Geneva General, especially Dr. Winston Hamilton, as well as the staff at Strong Memorial Hospital.
Lathey was working on his 1969 Pontiac GTO in his family’s Tillman Street garage, removing a gas tank, when he was injured. The tank exploded, engulfing Lathey in flames.
His mother and father, after hearing a commotion and someone saying Jeremy was on fire, called an ambulance and rushed to the garage to extinguish the flames. They walked him down the driveway to the ambulance, noting that he was coherent at the time.
What followed was intensive treatment. For months, he stayed in a hospital room near Strong’s burn unit. He underwent at least 15 major surgeries and numerous skin grafts.
With fear of infection and respiratory failure, he was put into an induced coma for two months.
The burns damaged his vocal cords, leaving him unable to talk. He came home that August, and his parents turned their living room into a makeshift hospital room, complete with hospital bed, special wheelchair and mattress, ventilator and other medical equipment.
There were numerous fundraisers to help the family pay for medical and travel expenses. Mary Kay Lathey is a radiology technician at F. F. Thompson Hospital in Canandaigua, and her fellow employees donated vacation time so she could be with her son.
The Latheys said the gasoline burned inside him, even after it was put out on his exterior, causing serious damage.
The damage to his immune system from sepsis, a poisoning of the blood, was too much to overcome.
He also lost a large part of his large intestine, appendix, gall bladder, and both arms in an effort to stop toxins from spreading.
Numerous blood transfusions helped for a while, but the damage was too great.
“In the last few months, it got worse. His bone marrow had diminished so much and his immune system was so damaged that neither could be rebuilt. His red and white blood cell counts couldn’t be built up,’’ his mother said.
The family knew it would be a long recuperation. Sadly, his mother said, Jeremy feared he would die before he came back home.
“What can I say?’’ said Fire Chief Bruce Moore. “It is such a sad tragedy for someone so young to have to endure this. I know he had ups and downs, but he took a turn for the worse in recent weeks.”
Lathey was a third generation Geneva firefighter. His grandfather, William Lathey, and his father were Nester Hose members.
Nester Hose Chief Kevin Powers said he was a very active member of the department.
“I remember seeing him at the fire station as a young kid with his grandfather. His father is also an active member, so it was no surprise when he joined,’’ Powers said.
“We miss him and tried to support the family as best we could. I expect a large delegation of Nester Hose and all firefighters to be at the funeral.”
The department will have a ceremony, led by chaplain Bill Hastings, at the calling hours, Powers said.
Black bunting will be placed outside the front door of the fire department for 30 days, a customary tribute to a firefighter who has died.
“He was a good kid. Dedicated, dependable, and who always responded when he was available. The fire and his death are tragic,’’ Powers said.
The family used the website Caring Bridges to post updates on Jeremy’s condition and receive messages from well-wishers.
As of Monday, there were more than 105,000 messages as word of Jeremy’s death spread.
“He fought to the end,’’ said his father, sharing photos of Jeremy taken throughout his life.