Okla. firefighter recovering from chemical exposure

Chouteau Assistant Fire Chief Keith Brandon is not even 30 and is now using a walker just to maintain his balance


By Melissa McClendon
The Pryor Daily Times

PRYOR, Okla. — His life may never be the same, but his spirit is strong.

"I'd be on a truck if I didn't have a walker," Brandon said.

Chouteau Assistant Fire Chief Keith Brandon is not even 30 and is now using a walker just to maintain his balance.

On March 16, at 3:45 p.m., two semi trucks collided in front of Fiesta Mart in Chouteau. One of the trucks was carrying battery acid while the other was carrying cleaning chemicals. The combination of the two spills caused a chemical reaction that put off a smokeless fume.

When Chouteau Fire Department arrived, Brandon along with fellow firefighter Troy Schopp went around the right side of the wreck to check the scene. Brandon said about 10 minutes later when they went to move the fire truck upwind from the scene, Schopp began to complain that he couldn't breathe.

"I couldn't catch my breath. It felt like someone was strangling you," Schopp said.

Schopp was then transported to St. Francis Hospital, in Tulsa where personnel did a chest x-ray and gave him a breathing treatment. Schopp a nurse at Cancer Treatment Center of America, said he was released the same day.

While helping Schopp, Brandon said his hands began to burn. He didn't think he had anything on them but he washed them as a precaution. After Schopp was transported, Brandon went back to work on the wreck. He and the other firefighters worked eight hours at the scene.

When he finally made it home from his shift, Brandon said he was tired.

"The next morning my vision was horrible," Brandon said. "My legs and body were real shaky."

Brandon asked his mother to take him to St. Francis. Brandon entered the emergency room with his eyes moving left to right very rapidly. His muscles were also twitching. Brandon said a doctor recognized right away that something was "bad wrong."

Something was terribly wrong. Brandon had been exposed to toxic chemicals. After three days of extensive testing, a doctor diagnosed Brandon as having a severe toxic neuropathy due to exposure to hazardous materials. While working the wreck, Brandon's eyes and face were exposed. Doctors believe he absorbed the toxic fumes through his eyes into his brain.

What is happening to Brandon is akin to his nerves sparking.

"It's like pouring water on a computer," Brandon said.

Brandon spent three and one-half weeks in the

hospital while doctors worked to find a way to treat the mysterious symptoms.

A neuro nurse told Brandon that she had not seen anything like his symptoms in 38 years. Doctors say he should make a full recovery, but for now he is using a walker to maintain his balance. His eyes continue to vacillate rapidly, but with the help of

medicine they can be slowed to minimal movement. For now, Brandon is dependent on the meds. Without them, his eyes move so rapidly that he has headaches and

discomfort.

Brandon has a long road ahead of him. He is scheduled to see an eye specialist in Oklahoma City.

Doctors do think he'll make a full recovery, but he may never be the same as he was before March 16.

"That's my life's aspiration is to be a fireman. I'll be back. If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life. I like that quote."

A 2000 graduate of Pryor High School, Brandon has been a fireman since 2003. He has also worked for MESTA since 2004.

A benefit has been planned to help Brandon with his expenses. The benefit concert will be Thursday, at the Locust Grove Community Building. The Law Dawgs will play at 7 p.m.

Reprinted with permission of the Pryor Daily Times.

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