A lifesaving diagnosis

How a DO saved my life when I was a child

Brogan Galbreath, OMS III, shares the story of how Michael Reihart, DO, saved his life after a diagnosis of meningococcal sepsis.

“The memories that hang heaviest are the easiest to recall. They hold in their creases the ability to change one’s life, organically, forever.” –Julie Gregory

My most vivid childhood memory begins with a feverish and tearful awakening from sleep, unable to stand, covered in violet blotches. With just weeks before my fifth birthday, I had no understanding of what was happening to me, or that my parents, for whom I cried out, were hundreds of miles away visiting family.

My grandma, or “Me-ma” as I’ve always referred to her, slept restlessly by the side of my bed, aware of the flu-like symptoms with which I was reluctantly tucked into bed for the night. When I awakened, my symptoms had only progressed. Me-ma helped me to the bathroom where I all but collapsed. And thus, the emergency response system was activated.

We arrived at the emergency department, greeted by the man who I often consider my guardian angel: Michael Reihart, DO, a skilled physician equipped with the sincere compassion yet necessary stoicism to recognize my illness and initiate a series of events that afforded me a second opportunity at life.

A difficult diagnosis

Though initial presentation of meningococcal sepsis can be widely variable, Dr. Reihart recognized the symptoms, made a clinical decision, and acted on it, even in the face of doubt from other clinicians. Within minutes, fluid and antibiotics were rapidly pushed through an IV into my vascular system as a helicopter was dispatched to transport me to a higher level of care.

For a moment, my family and I were blissfully unaware that meningococcal sepsis, if not recognized and treated early, could have mortality rate as high as over 40%. We also didn’t know that meningococcal meningitis can cause complications like hearing loss, neurologic impairment, and limb amputation in up to 27% of survivors.

Galbreath and Dr. Reihart

Whenever my mom tells the story she reminds me that, implored by her motherly instincts, she reprimanded me on the phone that evening saying, “Brogan, don’t you do this to us! You can’t let go!”

In the moments before my bed was transported up to the helipad, Dr. Reihart placed a call to my parents who were already traveling back north to my hometown. The call was to give my parents an opportunity to say goodbye, as it seemed that my late diagnosis of meningococcemia was nearly a death sentence.

Apparently, I took her words to heart. Early the next morning, my parents arrived at Hershey Medical Center, where they stayed by my side for the next two weeks as I slowly recovered from the disease.

A memorable reunion

I was discharged from the hospital just before Easter of 2002, and one of the first trips we made was back to the emergency department where I had first arrived. There, I was reunited with the physician who saved my life and changed its course in ways none of us would understand until years later.

That day, Dr. Reihart told my parents that, of all the patients he had diagnosed with a meningococcal infection, I was the first to survive without any lasting complications. We discussed the turbulent weeks that had just passed and thanked God for his divine intervention through the hands of such an incredible physician. It was clear that my miraculous recovery had impacted all of us deeply.

Galbreath and his wife, Madeline, pose with Dr. Reihart (right) and his son, Brogan.

Several years later, the phone rang at the Galbreath household. My mom giddily passed the phone to me. It was Dr. Reihart, and he told me with the overwhelming joy of a soon-to-be father, that he and his wife were expecting a son. In all my childhood wisdom and modesty, I responded, “Well, you can name him after me!”

As it turns out, that was already their plan. Dr. Reihart and his wife were soon blessed with a new life in their household, just as I was blessed with a seemingly new life following my miraculous recovery from meningococcemia.

Mentorship and career decisions

From that point forward, our families continued to stay in touch, getting together to celebrate birthdays and Christmases whenever we could. My high school years rolled around, and I began considering career options for my life ahead. Medicine was always somewhere near the top. When assigned a career exploration project, I chose to shadow and interview the first person that came to mind, none other than Dr. Reihart.

Thus, a new mentor-like relationship was formed between us that continued through my undergraduate studies. I cherished this relationship, as I recognize that many pre-medical students struggle to connect with an impactful mentor.

Ultimately, I felt as though I had a certain duty to pay forward the gift of life that was given to me, which I realized I could best fulfill by becoming a physician. When the time came, I submitted my applications with the simultaneous relief and anxiety that every pre-medical student comes to know.

Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. Reihart’s alma mater, was the first school to accept me and was the program where I felt most at home. Although I was accepted to a handful of programs, I kept coming back to the mindful, empathetic and holistic approach that Dr. Reihart took in my care as a child, his interactions with my family, and the guidance he provided throughout my life. How could I not seek out the same education that made him such an admirable physician and mentor? The decision was easy.

Lasting impressions

Can you believe there was one more important role for Dr. Reihart to play in my life? My fiancée, Madeline, and I sat down one day to discuss who we should have marry us. She mentioned that, had it not been for Dr. Reihart’s seemingly divine intervention so many years ago, the two of us would have never had the opportunity to meet and fall in love.

Dr. Reihart willingly accepted this role, completed the ordination process, and on July 3, 2021, led Madeline and I through our vows and joined us in holy matrimony.

I am now in my third year of medical school, doing my best to learn and grow into a knowledgeable student physician who can succeed after graduation. What I’ve learned through my relationship with Dr. Reihart and my osteopathic education thus far is that we must always cherish the patient-physician relationships that develop with each unique interaction.

And, through adherence to our first osteopathic tenet of treating “body, mind and spirit,” I hope to provide solace to each patient with whom I interact, so that I may one day have the same impact on someone’s life that Dr. Reihart has had on mine.

I encourage each osteopathic student to find a way to connect their patient care to their own life, as such connections can help to humble us as we seek to provide the best, most compassionate care.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Related reading:

Q&A: How this DO built a career out of making children feel safe

From medical skeptic to grateful and compliant: My recent patient’s transformation

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