Rare case of strep throat leads to amputated hands, feet for Michigan man

Kevin Breen is one of two men to have this complication

GRAND RAPIDS – It's hard to imagine, but a horrible case of strep throat will soon cost a west Michigan man his hands and feet.

Doctors at Spectrum Hospital in Grand Rapids are studying the extremely rare case. They said the man is one of only two men in the world with a case this bad.

Kevin Breen's son had strep throat and fought it off with no problem, but for some reason, Breen nearly died from the illness.

The amputations are happening on Wednesday. Breen's hands and feet have turned black and have lost almost all movement.

"This one I can move a little," he said.

He now relies on his wife, Julie, to do pretty much everything.

"I never thought going in for a stomach ache and coming out a totally different person, and life changing," he said.

It all started when he started feeling sick on Christmas Day. Days later, his stomach pain was so unbearable he went to the emergency room. Doctors found his stomach was filling with puss, but they didn't know why.

At one point, his wife was told to gather family and prepare for the worst.

"That moment was terrifying," she said. "I just kind of lost it and stopped and prayed."

Doctors said a rash on Breen's upper torso was a clue -- a common sign of strep in his belly. It's assumed he got it from his son. The strep traveled from his throat to his stomach and his body couldn't fight it.

"So basically he just had a very strong strain of it, and he was very susceptible to it," a doctor said.

Despite that storm, changing Breen's life forever, he's the first to admit he's glad to still be alive.

"Life is forever going to be different, but different doesn't necessarily have to be bad," Breen said. "It's just going to be what we make it and we just have to figure it out, figure it our for our kids. Dad's going to have cool hands. Dad's going to have cool feet. We have to be positive."

His doctors said they've only found 32 cases of strep traveling to the abdomen. Most are from the urinary track in women. Breen is one of two men in the world who have had this happen.

When people hear that something like strep throat leads to amputations, it raises concerns, but Dr. Frank McGeorge said this obviously isn't common.

"It's certainly not common with strep, and the situation in this case was probably more complex," McGeorge said. "The strep he had may have also been producing a toxin that made the complications worse, and it's likely that the damage to his hands and feet were also part of the larger picture of an overwhelming infection that affected his circulation. So it wasn't quite as simple as strep throat leading to amputations. I do want to point out, strep can cause many complications, including kidney damage, rheumatic fever, toxic shook syndrome and even behave as a flesh-eating bacteria."

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