Community unites around musician after illness

In this Jan. 18, 2019 photo, Levi Britton smiles while resting in a recliner at his home in Traverse City, Mich. The community has come together to raise money for his family after he underwent open heart surgery. (Tessa Lighty/Traverse City Record-Eagle via AP)

BY PATTI

BRANDT BURGESS

Traverse City

Record-Eagle

AP Member Exchange

TRAVERSE CITY– Local musician Levi Britton’s recent endocarditis — an infection of the lining of the heart — likely started with a bad tooth.

It ended with open heart surgery to repair his mitral valve, which lets blood flow between the left chambers of the heart.

His 10-inch-long incision is still healing, but the medical bills are piling up for Britton and his wife, Annie Britton, prompting the community to help the well-loved artist.

“I’m a lucky man,” Britton said to the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

A GoFundMe page has raised nearly $30,000 in 12 days. Another fundraiser was recently held at Kilkenny’s Irish Pub, where Britton can usually be seen every Tuesday, performing his indie folk brand of music.

“The generosity of this community … I don’t know how we will ever be able to thank everyone,” Annie said.

Britton, 39, had what he thought was the flu a few weeks before Christmas — fatigue, loss of appetite, night sweats and severe chills.

“I could not get warm,” Britton said. “I had horrible chills. I would have on a blanket, a hoodie and a winter coat and I’d be just shivering.”

The Brittons were married in November and have a blended family of five children ranging from 17 years old to 14-month-old River, who is theirs together.

“He started getting sick just a couple weeks after we got married,” Annie said. “There were those moments at night. We all have that voice that tells us when something is wrong. It was not normal.”

At one point he had an episode with stroke-like symptoms, but it went away after several hours so they never went to the hospital. When Britton’s legs started swelling up and bruising, Annie knew it was time to go to the emergency room.

Britton was diagnosed with endocarditis, which tests showed had damaged his mitral valve, though doctors think he may have had a leaking valve from birth, Annie said.

Doctors think the infection began with an abscessed tooth, though Britton said he doesn’t remember having a toothache.

The leaking mitral valve, coupled with the endocarditis, caused ‘vegetations’ or growths on his heart that were breaking loose and lodging in parts of his body, where they were cutting off blood flow. Tests, in fact, showed that Britton had a stroke caused by vegetations that broke loose and lodged in his brain, though no permanent damage was done.

After about a week at Munson Medical Center, Britton was sent home to be with his family at Christmas. Two days after the holiday he was back at Munson having surgery to remove a 2-inch-long growth that traveled to his leg and blocked his femoral artery.

The damaged valve needed to be repaired, but his heart was still infected and would make heart surgery risky. If the valve wasn’t repaired, Britton risked another embolic episode that could do permanent damage, including paralysis.

In the end, open heart surgery was performed.

Britton has a solo album and his band, Stolen Silver, has released two albums. His first band, Down the Line, recorded five albums and toured for 10 years with the likes of the Gin Blossoms, Pat Benatar, Peter Frampton and more.

But he has not picked up his guitar since his ordeal. He’s scared to play, though he’s not sure why.