Kevin Breen, a 44-year-old and father of three, was admitted to a hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for stomach pain. His experience would change his life and cost him almost all four of his limbs in a quadruple amputation.
Breen’s story begins on Christmas Day. On a day usually full of cheer and fun, Breen felt tired and sickly. His fatigue continued for two more days until he began experiencing excruciating pains in his stomach.
His wife, Julie Breen, 33, drove him to the hospital where they prescribed pain and nausea medication that had little to no effect.
“They just didn't work,” Kevin Breen explained. “I felt worse the next morning, and I said, 'We gotta go to the hospital.'”
He had experienced similar pains before during his bout with appendicitis, but this pain was more than anything he had experienced before.
After enduring a night of the excruciating pain, Breen knew “something just wasn’t right”.
He was admitted to the hospital, but doctors had little success in identifying what was wrong with him. Several tests came out inconclusive. Only after looking at the results of a CT scan, doctors concluded he may have ruptured an ulcer.
Breen was immediately rushed into exploratory surgery where they found “1 ½ liters of infected pus in his abdominal region.”
“I’ve never seen this before and I don’t like it,” commented Elizabeth Steensma, the surgeon who performed the operation on Breen.
She explained that abdominal infections were rare and that the amount of material buildup they found in Breen usually suggested an organ had been punctured. However, the doctors were unable to find any holes in his organs and were unable to identify how and why so much pus was in his system.
While doctors continued looking for an explanation for Breen’s condition, he began developing a bright red rash around his torso.
They sent a sample culture to the microbiology lab that came back positive for strep. Steensma concluded that Breen had contracted strep that travelled from his throat to his stomach. This case of strep has only been seen 32 times in the past and Breen’s case involved a particularly strong strain that left his body unable to defend itself.
“It's estimated that there are over 1 million cases per year, and this is only the second case that has ever been reported of strep traveling from a male patient's throat to his stomach,” Steensma said.
The doctors figured out what was wrong with Breen, but the struggle for his life was just beginning. The infection caused him to go into severe septic shock that began shutting down his body, severely worsening his condition.
The situation was so dire that doctors suggested his close family should be informed that he may not live much longer.
Breen, 44, (center) with wife and three kids. Source: CNN
“He had renal failure and acute kidney injury and liver injury and abnormalities in coagulation of his blood clotting. His blood pressure was so profoundly low, he pretty much required maximum doses of three medications to maintain it," Steensma explained.
Breen was suffering from multi-system organ failure and needed a ventilator to keep him alive.
Constant infusions of antibiotics and blood pressure medication allowed Breen’s body to begin fighting back a few days after surgery. His condition stabilized and he began to show enough signs of recovery that he was released from the intensive care unit into an acute rehab hospital.
While the blood pressure medication kept Breen alive during his most crucial days in the hospital, it came at the cost of his hands and feet. The medication redirected blood flow to his vital organs away from his extremities. The lack of blood caused irreparable necrosis, or tissue death, in his hands and feet.
After being admitted to the acute rehab hospital, Breen was forced to begin a series of four surgeries to “partially amputate both of his feet, his left hand, and multiple fingers on his right hand” that had suffered from necrosis.
A day after his first surgery, Breen found it difficult to do “the simple things like getting up from the couch to get a snack or grabbing a tissue to blow [his] nose.”
“It's frustrating, I'm not gonna lie, but I have hope that I'll regain my mobility and the ability to take care of myself,” he said. “I’m not going to let it beat me down.”
Image credit: WoodTV
Steensma was amazed at his recovery. “I can't even begin to tell you how grateful we all are that he's doing so well,” she said. “He's home with his family. His kidneys have recovered. He's off dialysis, and he's regaining his life. That's the best we could wish for him.”
His family is overjoyed and grateful to have Breen safely back at home.
“Things are hard, but at the end of the day I have a husband — and my kids have a dad,” Julie Breen said.
A GoFundMe page has been started in support of Breen and his family. They have almost reached their goal of $150,000 to cover the costs associated with Breen’s life-threatening illness and his recovery.
Breen’s future is uncertain, but he hopes to receive prosthetic limbs so he can resume enjoying life.
“I'd like to be able to water ski again,” he said. “That was a huge passion of mine. I may not be able to do it at the same level, but just getting out there would be special.”
Source: Holley P. A father went to the hospital with stomach pain. He left without his hands and feet. Washington Post. March 18, 2017.