Brian's story began on January 19th, 2017. The day started off as any other normal day. Off to work for the two of us and getting Desirae off to school. By the end of the day, Brian came home and mentioned he felt a cold or sinus infection coming on with a slight sore throat on one side. Simple cold we assumed, right? The next few days went by and while Brian was a bit tired and rested most of the weekend, I was giving him my normal speech about making sure he takes better care of himself so he can get back to watching Desirae at swimming lessons, helping around the house, etc...
He seemed much better on Monday and back to our normal routine we went.
Tuesday (Jan 24th) morning rolls around and Brian informed me that he had woken up at 3am with a 102 temp and his back was hurting. Many know that Brian has battled back problems now for many years and has a few discs that like to pop out once in a while. For some odd reason the pain in his back this morning was on a different side than usual which was odd but all symptoms he had pointed to him having picked up the flu with a sore back which we now assumed was from laying around over the weekend, or so we thought...
Wednesday (Jan 25th) rolls around and he was still showing all signs of the flu, 102 temp that went down to 100 when he took Advil or Tylenol, body aches all over and sweating really bad. We both had influenza last year and while he showed all signs of having the flu, I was frantically running around the house disinfecting everything to ensure Desirae and I didn't catch it.
Here comes Thursday (Jan 26th) and what a day it was. He was still sleeping when Desirae and I left for the day and we didn't want to disturb him so we let him sleep. Thinking about the day on my way to work contained thoughts of what aircraft we would be closing on next at work, Family Fun night at school for Desirae and finishing the day off with her dance class. Thursday's are typically a longer day for us and with a family fun night in between, it added another place to run for the day. Typical busy day or so I thought...
I called a Brian from work around 10:30am to see how he was doing. It was the same he said and he felt absolutely terrible. He still had a temp however, something new seemed to be happening. He admitted that the day before his right leg was starting to feel bruised. He blew it off as another problem from laying around however, this morning his calf seemed swollen and it really hurt to walk on. I told him, that's it, I was leaving work to get him and take him in. He didn't think it was necessary and stressed that I stay at work. This was the life changing moment....I didn't listen.
I called him when I got in my car and said you won't like this but get ready because I was on my way. After a few strong words, he agreed and was ready when I got home. When I saw him, his leg didn't appear too swollen to me but it was very evident how painful the leg was becoming. We arrived at a Northfield Hospital and I wheeled him into the ER. This began about 4-5 hours of many tests with zero answers and each test proving to bring even more questions. With each test we received more bad news and as the time ticked the pain was getting more intense and the right leg was getting larger and larger. By now he had 4 doses of the strongest pain medicine they had and it was providing zero relief. He was now begging me to give him Advil out of my purse or to do anything I could to try and help his pain while he shook bad and sweated profusely. He seemed to be turning yellow and his lips looked purple.
It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do watching him with such extreme intense pain and being so helpless. At this point, the thought was he had a something called Compartment Syndrome in his leg which causes a particular compartment within the leg to fill up with fluid and build pressure in the leg which then when the pressure gets high enough it cuts off blood flow to the muscles and tissues and can kill them in the process. Thankfully the ER doctors recognized the severity of a Brian's symptoms and called in a transfer to Abbott immediately (a bigger hospital in Minneapolis, MN). While I rushed off to get Desirae, a plan was quick put into place to get her to Brian's brothers for the night, where she has now been ever since, and for me to get a bag packed at home and head up to Abbott.
When I arrived his parents were with him in the ER and his pain had intensified even more. Hours and hours went by and about 4-5 more doses later of heavy pain killers with zero relief, as teams of doctors and surgeons were called in from home, we had a good feeling by 11pm that we may be dealing with something even more serious and even deadly. Brian was fully aware of the potential prognosis before heading in to surgery and when I asked him if he was scared...he said "no, not at all, just get me some pain relief"! About midnight he headed into what we thought would be a 1 1/2 hour surgery. 3 hours later....the story begins.
The diagnosis: Flesh Eating Bacteria. Brian is in septic shock and mild organ failure. Brian initially had a 3 hour surgery the first night where they removed all of the skin on his right leg up to his thigh. The infection had moved all the way up his right leg. He was heavily sedated and on a ventilator with oxygen, was moved to another hospital (HCMC Burn Unit) and had 5 more debridement surgeries over the course of the next few weeks.
After a few weeks they brought Brian out of sedation. It was clear that he was confused and dealing with bouts of delirium at this point where he didn't understand what happened or why he was in the hospital. The delirium continued right up to the point after Doctors had determined an amputation of his right leg was necessary. During this time, his kidneys were still not functioning and he was getting continued dialysis while they monitored his other organs.
Over the course of the next month, Brian had his right leg amputated just above the knee and had skin grafting completed on his upper thigh. After about 2 months he was moved to Knapp Rehab Center which was attached to HCMC where he would spend the next week gaining his strength back and learning to take care of his wounds himself.
Finally, about 2 1/2 months into his journey, he was finally able to head home to continue his recovery there. He had to go back to the hospital about a month later for a 2nd skin graph surgery in order to fix a small area that didn't take the first time around. We are currently about 10-months in to his recovery and after 6-7 months of working with a prosthesist it has been determined now that he needs to have another surgery to revise his amputation. This surgery is scheduled to occur in December, 2017. He has unfortunately had some bone spurs that have developed and need to be removed. In addition, they need to rearrange the tendons/tissues in his stump with the hopes that this will eliminate the pain he has when putting on a prosthetic leg.
We never expected in a million years that this would be our story for 2017. Our family is so blessed that it is a story of survival and Brian is a Survivor! We look forward to the future, Brian learning how to get back to walking and being more mobile again. Through tragedy we have been blessed in many ways and we look forward to seeing what the future holds!
Tanya Strese (Brian's wife)