Wife hears noise upstairs, so she checks it out and sees a nightmare in her bedroom. Life has its ups and downs. When you’re up, enjoy the scenery and when you’re down, touch the soul of your being and feel the beauty. Kevin Breen can wash the dishes. He can get dressed, help his kids with bath time and drive.
He can even wakeboard. There’s not much the 45 year old Alto man can’t do. Being able to Cook dinner, being able to do dishes, that’s something I wanted, to be able to do something myself, and now I can, Breen said. Sitting in a patient care room at Hanger Clinic, which provides prosthetic and orthotic services. Breen couldn’t do these things.
A year and a half ago, on Christmas Day 2016, the otherwise healthy father of three started feeling sick. He developed a rare strep throat infection and toxic shock killed the tissue on his hands and feet, requiring the amputation of his left hand, fingers from his right hand and feet. Two days after Christmas, Kevin Breen, a 44 year old husband and father of three, felt like he was coming down with something. It wasn’t exactly a surprise. His three yearold son had just gotten overstretched throat.
The avid skier and boat enthusiasts pushed through the common symptoms of achiness and stomach pain. Assuming that he had a textbook case of strep, doctors at a local urgent care center treated it as such and sent him home with some medication. Come home, Breen knew that something was drastically wrong. He went to the Er, where he was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis, sudden inflammation of the pancreas and admitted by evening. There was no amount of medication that could soothe his pain.
After a telltale rash appeared on Breen’s torso, his team of doctors connected strep to his extreme pain and distended stomach. They performed an exploratory surgery to confirm, and when they opened him up, they found 1.5 liters of infected pus teeming with streptococcal bacteria the very same infection that causes strep throat. The bacteria had migrated to his stomach and had never showed up on a blood test. Medical mystery during the surgery, doctors found three liters of pus surrounding his organs. They didn’t know where it was coming from.
Normally, we have to look for such things as perforations. We look for holes in the stomach or in the small bowel of the colon, and nothing was found, said Dr. Elizabeth Stensma, and acute care surgeon at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After surgery, he developed a rash on his chest. Doctors feared it could be streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, a severe illness associated with streptococcal infection.
They took samples and discovered the bacteria that caused strep throat. Based on the sample, the rash on Breen’s chest and his history, Steamsman said the final pieces came together. That strep organism that is really common somehow that went from his fernix in his throat and made his way to his abdominal cavity, she said. Breen went into multi system organ failure and severe septic shock. Doctors worked quickly to treat him.
The team worked around the clock minute by minute for the next several days, trying to keep him alive and get him home to his family, steamsmith said. Still, they weren’t able to save his fingers and toes. A rare extreme case Breen’s severe case of septic shock, the toxins from the strep organism and medications he was on led to the need to amputate parts of his feet and hands, according to Steenzma. It is extremely rare, she said. For most who develop strep throat, it’s little more than a temporary bother.
But occasionally, strep can get into the bloodstream and cause a serious infection, according to Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious disease at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. As strep travels through the body, it can set up housekeeping, if you will, in various locations in the body and cause damage at those locations, he said. Sepsis, a life threatening complication caused by an infection, usually follows and the body will go into shock. Blood will then move to essential functions such as the brain or heart and away from the blood vessels in the periphery.
When this happens, the hands and toes begin to die, which sometimes prompts the need for amputation, Schaffner said. Although these severe cases of stress are rare, he recommends seeking medical attention when an individual rapidly begins to feel unwell from a sore throat. Symptoms of strep throat include pain when swallowing, swollen tonsils and lymph nodes, fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit, 38.3 degrees Celsius and white or yellow spots on the back of a bright red throat. Strep throat can be passed between people through breathing, coughing or sneezing. Hand washing is an effective way to reduce the risk of spreading the infection to others.
Despite this, Brain recovered enough to move to an acute rehab facility, where he worked tirelessly to regain strength and relearn the most basic of independent skills. His returning strength, his body began to respond. Dialysis just a month out of the hospital was a thing of the past. Breen was able to go home to his wife, Julie, and his children, Lily, Bella and Blake. But the most difficult moments are ahead.
After losing all movement in his hands and feet, Brain must undergo at least four amputation surgeries to remove his entire left hand and multiple fingers of his right hand. He must also endure partial amputations on both of his feet. Breen’s doctors claim that he is the second man in all of documented medical history to have strep throat traveled to his stomach. There are 32 reported cases involving female patients and urinary tract infections. I’ve never thought I’d be going in for a stomachache and coming out a totally different person.
It’s life changing, Brienne explained to Wood TV. His demeanor, while incredulous, is anything but bitter. Breen has been remarkably positive throughout the experience and is an inspiration to those around him, reads his GoFundMe page. Of course, Breen still gets frustrated sometimes. He still drops gallons of milk and breaks dishes.
The family has switched to plastic and paper plates. It comes with the territory, he said. But he’s getting better, Julie Breen said. We break less stuff. It’s not an easy path by any means, Breen said.
And life still isn’t the way it was more than a year and a half ago. We’re not there yet, Breen said. I think that as I figure out different ways to adapt, as the prosthetics change, as my body keeps changing and I get stronger, then I think it will return to some kind of normal. Breen’s loved ones in the Oxford, Michigan, area will run the Michigan Tough Mudder Race in his honor and hope to raise $25,000 for the family by Saturday, June 3. If you’re local and want to support the breeds, you can sign [email protected] and join the group teambrain.
If you’re not local, consider donating to the family. Donations will help cover the costs of Breen’s growing medical expenses. His first amputation is scheduled for today. Life is forever going to be different, Breen’s wife said. But different doesn’t necessarily have to be bad.
It’s just going to be what we make it and we just have to figure it out. Figure it out for our kids. Dad’s going to have cool hands. Dad’s going to have cool feet. We have to be positive.
Kevin and his wife, Julie have shown great strength, humility, perseverance and faith in God throughout his ongoing journey. Please consider making a donation to show your support. The amount of prayers lifted up no doubt kept Kevin alive. They’ve been a very long journey ahead with many unknowns. Please continue to pray and they will continue to be thankful for all that they still have.
Life will forever be different, but different doesn’t have to be bad. Kevin was only one of two men in the world with a documented case of this form of strep throat, his wife noted. The ordeal began in December 2016 when he developed a sore throat and stomach pain on the day after Christmas. Julie remembered being concerned because Kevin never took a day off work but felt so ill that he decided to stay home. He sought help at an urgent care center where he initially tested positive for both flu and strep throat.
The couple returned home and had to go to the emergency room the next morning when Kevin’s pain became unbearable. It was really terrifying, Julie recalled. Almost three years later, we wanted to give everyone an update on our family. The video shown below was made by our amazing prosthetic company Hanger Clinic. The video gives a great update on Kevin and our family.
We also have the opportunity to be on the third hour of the Today show on Friday, October 25. We would not be here without the amazing amount of blessings God has sent our way and we’re forever thankful for the continued support we have received from so many. We hope our story can help motivate and encourage others going through difficult situations.
The ordeal has brought the couple closer together. I became his full time nurse when he first got home and watching his unwavering determination to be independent Again was so inspiring to both me and the kids, Julie said.