A few days later it was determined that the infection was not anything contagious, rather an aggressive case of Valley Fever that Jeff didn’t know he had. For those of you that aren't familiar with Valley Fever, it is a fungal infection caused by coccidioides found in the soil of places like the Phoenix area and Central California. When the spores get stirred up by construction, a heavy wind, farming or even a dog digging them up, they become airborne and can get breathed into the lungs.
Many people in these areas have mild Valley Fever and never know it, as it often resolves itself. Dogs can even have it. But there are some severe cases like Jeff's that, when go untreated, can invite secondary infections into the lungs and cause more damage. He had been showing symptoms of a bad cough and fatigue leading up to his lung collapsing but wrote it off as being tired from work and a chest cold.
The problem with this diagnosis was still the matter of the hole in his lung. His body nor the antibiotics had healed it closed. Meaning the infection was still very active and there was a layer of dead skin attached to the walls of his lung that was trapped, preventing the hole from closing on its own. They took X-Rays everyday and saw no improvement in the size of the hole. Jeff had been in the hospital for a week at this point. It was at this realization that the doctors agreed that surgery was the only option, otherwise the hole would get bigger which would lead to more problems.
His surgeon, Dr. Sydow and her team, are the top Cardiothoracic Surgeons in the state, so we were thankful that he was in good hands. After surgery Dr. Sydow told us that it was a good thing they went in through his ribs rather than arthroscopically, as they considered first. The surface of Jeff's right lung had a layer of infection and they had to remove that to prevent another hole from forming. The surgery went smoothly as planned and he was moved into Cardiovascular ICU. He was heavily sedated and had two chest tubes draining fluid, an IV in both arms, an epidural in his upper back to manage pain and an IV in his neck. The doctors told us that his procedure was the most painful surgery someone can go through and that he would be in a lot of pain for the weeks to follow. They said he will be on an anti fungal medication for 6 months to a year.
Jeff was released from the hospital a week later and was there a total of 15 days, with X-rays taken everyday, and the chest tube in him for 14 of those days. He is currently in recovery and isn't allowed to do simple tasks like lift more than 5 pounds for the next 3 weeks, among other restrictions.
Jeff and Lizzy took out a loan to buy a gift store in Flagstaff last summer. They also run the sales and warehousing for a furniture and home decor business. Not being able to work and being so restricted in his daily activities has reduced their income and has made it very difficult to keep their store running, which is the bulk of their income. Having to hire extra help, combined with his medical bills and more doctor visits and medication for the next 6 months to a year has left them overwhelmed with finances.
Jeff's stay in the hospital was a roller coaster of uncertainty and painful sleepless nights. Although he is home now, there is still a lot of aftercare and restrictions that are making it very difficult for life to get back to normal. That is why we are here asking for your help. I know it's been said before, but seriously anything helps! Jeff's income is based off of how much he works as a business owner and being off his feet for so long has made it very difficult to make enough money to pay his medical bills and upcoming costs. If you can give anything, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts! If all this story did was scare you into getting yourself tested for Valley Fever, that's fine too. The less people who have to go through Jeff’s situation, the better.
Thank you for reading Jeff's story.
- Eric Mante
- Julie Caylor
- Dave Nielsen
- Lizzy Martinez
Organizer and beneficiary
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