Living a life in color: A survivor’s mental health journey and recovery.

May 5, 2021

At 36 years old, Kevin Photos was fighting a mental war. He had been struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts for a while, and things didn’t seem to be improving. In fact, it all seemed to be getting worse. And, on January 4, 2017, Kevin made the decision to end his life by carbon monoxide inhalation.

“I lit the grill. I sat there. I was waiting. Then, I woke up. I opened my eyes and, for the first time in like a year, I saw color and didn’t realize it. I saw color, and I hadn’t seen color in a long time,” said Kevin. “And just like that, everything changed to, ‘I have to get out of here.’”

But carbon monoxide was still being released into the closed garage, and Kevin passed out. When he woke up next, he was able to open the garage door and call 911 before blacking out once more. Kevin regained consciousness in an ambulance where an EMT questioned him about the severe burns on his left hand and right ankle.

“I don’t know how it happened exactly, but I expect I was trying to move past the grill, trying to crawl out, and I grabbed it. Then, I think I just ended up lying down next to it,” he said.

He was taken to Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America (BRCA) at Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, CO, where he was treated for carbon monoxide poisoning and second- and third-degree burns by Dr. Benson Pulikkottil.

“Kevin is a good guy who was going through a really bad time when he came into my care, and I wanted to do everything in my power to make sure he left in a better place physically, mentally, and emotionally,” said Dr. Pulikkottil, medical director of BRCA at Swedish Medical Center.

BRCA is dedicated to the complete and total wellbeing of patients across the spectrum of care. To help treat the whole patient, several facilities throughout BRCA’s network of burn care have partnered with the Phoenix Society’s SOAR program. The SOAR program is a support resource that connects patients with burn survivors who are trained as certified peer supporters. While BRCA locations across the country continuously focus on expanding the availability of this program and other programs like it, Dr. Pulikkottil’s focus, at that time, was on Kevin and helping to build a treatment plan that was right for him.

The treatment process was difficult for Kevin. Like many patients, he required negative pressure wound therapy on his ankle, multiple rounds of skin grafts, and several dressing changes over the course of his recovery. In Kevin’s case, however, he had to make the healing journey without pain medications due to a tolerance he had built up over time.

“I was not a good patient. I didn’t like pain, and the pain pills didn’t work well for me. I really struggled with it, and I was miserable for weeks. I would cry in the waiting area before I would even go in to get the dressing changes,” said Kevin.


The emotional and physical stress of the healing process weighed on Kevin. In order to improve his recovery experience, he had to come to terms with the truth of his situation: He had to accept that he was not in control.


“I came to the realization that there was nothing I could do to get out of it,” he said. “I just got a different attitude about it and realized that I could control some things, even though I couldn’t control others. I like to keep in my mind that your attitude determines your approach and that determines your outcome. That whole philosophy clicked for me. From there on out, I’ve applied it to everything.”

Though his new mindset changed a lot about his situation, there were some things it couldn’t change like the toll the severe burns on his foot took on his mobility.

“I couldn’t walk for the longest time. They thought I might never walk normally again. Then one day, I just stood up in church. I was literally on my two feet, flat footed. And I looked down and was like, ‘How did I get here?’ I mean, I’ll say it, it was a miracle. It just happened,” said Kevin. “After that, I started walking to a point I would be bleeding through my bandages. I was pushing, pushing, pushing. I was going for distance and then speed. To this day, I walk very quickly, and I’m very proud of that.”

Four years later, and Kevin is healed, healthy, and doing well.

“Honestly, I’ve never been better. Since the burns, I’ve been promoted, got my first house, got my dream car, the wife and I are doing better than we were before, things are going well. You wouldn’t even be able to tell I had burns if you looked at me. It’s amazing you can see on my hand that something happened, but that doesn’t really bother me,” he said, “because it seems like a whole different life ago now, and I thank Dr. Pulikkottil for that.”

It wasn’t easy for Kevin to get where he is today, but it’s progress he works hard to maintain. He takes better care of himself and supplements that self-care with the resources available to him by talking with a psychiatrist every other week.

“I was in a dark place when I got the burns,” said Kevin. “But it’s preventable. It’s treatable. And I just wish people would believe that.”