The deck was stacked against Kevin Breveleri from the start of his life. A few days of carelessness almost ended it.
“My heart was upside down and backwards” at birth, he said, which resulted in two open-heart surgeries and six pacemaker surgeries by age 20. He also must take Coumadin, an anti-clotting medication, every day. But for several days five years ago, he didn’t.
“It was my own fault,” Breveleri, now 26, said. “I was partying and not taking care of myself. I was in a bar when it happened.”
“It” was Breveleri’s stroke. “My buddies said, ‘you don’t look so good,’” he recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t feel so good.’ Then I basically fell right to the floor. I tried to help myself back up, but I fell again. So they brought me over to Baystate.”
Breveleri, who grew up right-handed, lost much of the function on his right side at first, as well as his speech — “I couldn’t say ‘boo’ when I woke up” — but immediately began the long road to recovery.
After a month at Baystate and three more months of outpatient therapy at a different outpatient facility, he figured he wouldn’t progress much further. That’s when he returned to Baystate’s rehabilitation program, where occupational therapist Erin Jarosz took him under her wing.
Today, Breveleri’s speech is clear, but he still struggles with right-side weakness, and has retrained himself to button his clothes, eat, type, and write, among other activities, with his left hand — although he still needs help tying a necktie. And he has found a way to turn his experience into a positive.
“I was talking with Erin one day, and she said, ‘why don’t you come here; we have a rehab aide position open,’” he said. So he took the job, which involves tasks like changing beds and handling paperwork, but also speaking directly with patients who have recently suffered strokes.
“It’s an uplifting story for me,” Breveleri said. “I was in that situation. I can talk to them and be their friend, and I understand what they’re going through.”
As for the Coumadin? “I’ll be on it until the day I die,” he said — confident that day is a long way off.