Skip to main content.
Menu

When valley fever struck celebrated winemaker, doctors missed it

Changing Climate May Expand Valley Fever's Impact

Fellowship Story Showcase

When valley fever struck celebrated winemaker, doctors missed it

Boutique winery owner, Todd Schaefer, was diagnosed with pneumonia twice before doctors were able to see that he was infected with Valley Fever. As his condition worsens, the disease puts a strain on his health, and his business.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

By  

Todd and Tammy Schaefer appear the picture of good fortune and good health.

Tall, fit and well dressed, the couple met in Malibu, where they established their wine business. In 2001, they moved to Paso Robles, in San Luis Obispo County, and focused on Pacific Coast Vineyards full-time.

That’s where their long nightmare with valley fever began. Early in October 2003, Todd Schaefer was running a bulldozer that kicked up a thick cloud of dust.

A few days later, Todd became very sick. At Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton, near Paso Robles, a doctor performed an X-ray, saw scar tissue on his lung, and diagnosed him with pneumonia.

“They literally told me in the emergency room to send him home, get bed rest, and eat chicken noodle soup and cranberry juice, and it would go away,” Tammy Schaefer recalled.

Two weeks passed, and Todd’s condition worsened.

They returned to the hospital. Again, he was diagnosed with pneumonia, and told to go home to recover.

In late October, Todd was visiting his mother in Pacific Palisades when he collapsed. At St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, doctors feared Todd had tuberculosis and placed both him and Tammy in quarantine. The couple spent two weeks in the Intensive Care Unit, as doctors ran tests that always came back negative.

 “They had no idea how to treat him,” Tammy Schaefer said. “They were giving him a general antibiotic.”

Doctors finally took a lung biopsy, which was sent to the coccidioidomycosis serology lab at UC Davis. About a week later, they learned Todd had spinal fungal meningitis, meaning the spores had entered his lungs and then spread to his spinal fluid, causing swelling. They put him on antifungal medication more than a month after the initial infection.

Todd was released from the hospital a little before Thanksgiving 2003, but with a terrible prognosis. He was told he would suffer brain damage within 10 to 15 years, due to the meningitis. He would be on antifungal medication for the rest of his life, which would have many side effects, including preventing Todd from ever tasting his own wine again.

Todd and Tammy Schaefer were engaged, but after Todd was released from the hospital, he encouraged Tammy to reconsider marrying him.

“I told her, ‘you’re too young and too beautiful,’” he recalled. “‘I’ve got to set you free because I’ve got a bad road ahead of me and I don’t want to bring you down.’”

They were married Dec. 4, 2003, at the Beverly Hills courthouse.

But life has not gotten any easier since Todd’s valley fever diagnosis. Heavy antifungal drugs with harsh side effects, coupled with other health complications, have made his condition hell, he said.

Even if drugs were keeping him alive, they weren’t keeping him healthy. About nine years after he first started taking Diflucan, an anti-fungal drug, he suffered a small stroke. An infectious disease doctor at Stanford University said he had developed hydrocephalus, or water on the brain.

The disease has also been hard on their winery, Pacific Coast Vineyards.

Their 2007 Pinot Noir recently won the Best of Class and Judges’ Choice awards at a 2010 San Francisco Chronicle wine competition. But despite the accolades, the Schaefers have remained a boutique winery, producing just 2,500 cases annually.

“We have to stay small - I’m checking in, I’m checking out,” Todd Schaefer said.

 In early August, Todd said he had worked just two full days in the past six months. Meanwhile, Tammy has been pulled away from the business, too, as she cares for her husband, takes him to medical appointments, and researches his disease.

 During an August interview, Todd started to feel dizzy - something that has occurred more frequently, though he doesn’t know why.

 “I just took a little spin there,” he said, followed by an exasperated sigh. “I need to get an exorcist. I am possessed. I hate it. I’m so sick of it. Get it out of me!”

If anything good comes out of this ordeal, Tammy hopes it is that more light is cast on valley fever. She would like the public to be more aware and wants doctors to do a better job of identifying it. She also urged local agencies to advise outdoor workers to take proper precautions against the disease.

“I just don’t understand why they can’t bring more attention to it, it’s so strange,” she said. “It is like a dirty little secret.”

About This Series

This project results from an innovative reporting venture – the Center for Health Journalism Collaborative – which currently involves the Bakersfield Californian, Radio Bilingüe in Fresno, Valley Public Radio in Fresno and Bakersfield, Vida en el Valle in Fresno, Hanford Sentinel, the Voice of OC in Santa Ana, the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, La Estrella de Tucsón and the Center for Health Journalism. The collaborative is an initiative of the Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

RELATED STORIES

For valley fever survivors, a growing need: wigs

The antifungal drugs used to treat valley fever can cause hair loss. With the number of valley fever cases on the rise, a wig shop in Bakersfield, Calif., is helping women feel better about themselves.

California budget boosts funding for valley fever

The budget includes $8 million for research and outreach into the disease, caused by inhaling spores that grow in arid soil.

Three valley fever bills sail through committee, one pulled by sponsor

Facing pushback from the medical community, California Assemblyman Vince Fong withdrew a bill late last month that would have required doctors to order specific types of lab tests when they suspect valley fever.

Assemblymen ask state for $7 million in fight against valley fever to fuel research, spread awareness

Bakersfield Assemblymen Vince Fong and Rudy Salas submitted a $7 million budget proposal that, if approved, would be the largest amount of money California has ever designated to research and raise awareness of the disease.

One year after federal health officials launch first-of-its-kind valley fever drug trial, few have enrolled

Just 48 people have signed up across California and Arizona for a new clinical trial of Fluconazole, an antifungal drug used to treat valley fever. That's far fewer than officials had expected.

Bakersfield legislators ask state for $3M in fight against valley fever

Bakersfield lawmakers requested $3 million in the state budget last week to research treatments and conduct outreach for valley fever.

Unprecedented six bills introduced within days of each other to address valley fever

Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, will introduce two bills Wednesday aimed at combating valley fever, the orphan disease which infected Californians at epidemic levels last year.

Disease experts split on benefits of valley fever bills introduced this week

Advocates for valley fever research give California Assemblyman Rudy Salas an “A” for effort for the "most robust" legislative effort to address the disease in state history. But public health officials and experts are split on whether the remedies proposed by Salas will bring improvements.
http://medicaments-24.com

средство для потенции у мужчин