Editor's note: The images below may be disturbing to some.
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-year-old son had just gotten over strep throat.
The avid skier and boat-enthusiast 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 morning, 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.
"He was one of the sickest patients I have ever taken care of," Dr. Elizabeth Steensma, an acute care surgeon on Breen's case, told . Breen was placed on a ventilator and his family was told to prepare for the worst.
He fought for his life, though, and with the help of high doses of medication to keep his blood pressure up, he pulled through — but at an unbelievable cost. The same medication that stopped Breen from dying led to necrosis (tissue death) of his extremities. His fingers and toes began to turn black and his kidneys failed. Breen became dependent on dialysis to filter his blood.
Despite this, Breen 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 strength returning, 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, Lilly, Bella and Blake, but the most difficult moments are ahead. After losing all movement in his hands and feet, Breen 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 travel from his throat to his stomach — there are 32 reported cases involving female patients and urinary tract infections.
"I never thought (I'd be) going in for a stomachache and coming out a totally different person. It's life-changing," Breen explained to . 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 .
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 3rd. If you're local and want to support the Breens, you can sign up at toughmudder.com and join the group Team Breen. If you're not local, consider . 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."