Abscessed tooth is likely origin of flesh eating bacteria that led to man’s life-threatening condition
By Kay Braddock
It’s been just over a month since Mildred farmer and rancher Pat Breen returned home from Billings Clinic where he was treated for a life-threatening infection.
Breen, who became ill with Necrotizing Fasciitis, a flesh-eating bacteria, continues to praise the medical professionals from Terry and Miles City to Billings, who he says helped save his life.
The more he and his wife Vicki have read about the flesh-eating bacteria, the more convinced the two have become that his return home is nothing short of a miracle.
“I lived through it, praise the Lord,” the 59-year-old lifelong Mildred man said during a brief telephone interview last week.
Billings Clinic’s Dr. Robin Horrell recalled accessing Breen’s initial chances for survival at just 10 to 20 percent.
“I hate to use the word miracle,” Horrell said, “but the odds were certainly not in his favor.”
Breen recalled the stages that led to his Jan. 28 emergency visit. An infection that Breen said stemmed from strep throat and was likely caused from an abscessed tooth began to spread.
“(It) went into my neck and glands and throat,” Breen said, “and I swelled up like a basketball.”
Prairie Community Hospital’s Chip Mintz, PA-C quickly sent Breen on to Miles City, where, as the swelling continued to increase, CAT scans were performed and an emergency airway was made to help facilitate breathing. Breen was then sent by life flight to Billings Clinic, where he underwent a three-hour surgery to remove dead and dying flesh. The surgery required a large incision along his upper chest, one under his chin and another incision underneath his jaw towards the throat. The area was washed out using antibacterial solution.
During his nearly three-week hospital stay, Breen would undergo three more surgeries to wash-out the area and insure the infection was not spreading into other territories.
Noting the rarity of this kind of procedure, Horrell recalled, “At each day you don’t really know if somebody can survive something like this. So we operate and see where we’ve made progress.”
Horrell, an ear, nose and throat doctor for over 10 years whose expertise is in head and neck surgery, said he’s seen less than six of the flesh-eating bacteria infections, and “never a case this serious.”
Between thankful praises, Breen still finds room for humor.
“They came close to cutting my head off,” Breen joked. “But not quite.”
Published March 31, 2010