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2nd annual valley fever awareness walk draws survivors out

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2nd annual valley fever awareness walk draws survivors out

The Reporting on Health Collaborative is an initiative of Iso.in.ua Health Journalism Fellowships at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Casey Christie / The Bakersfield Californian The Bakersfield Condors hockey team mascot "Baby Cal," center, has fun with the walkers during the annual valley fever walk.
Casey Christie / The Bakersfield Californian The Bakersfield Condors hockey team mascot "Baby Cal, " center, has fun with the walkers during the annual valley fever walk.
Reporting on Health Collaborative
Monday, August 12, 2013

BY RACHEL COOK

Californian staff writer

[email protected]

Walking to stump up awareness about valley fever wasn’t easy for Shane Hoover.

On Saturday morning, the slender blond 26-year-old took a deep, rasping breath and gave a thick cough as he described his three-year struggle with the disease.

Valley fever, which is caused by a fungus that thrives in the soil, has spread through Hoover’s body, reaching his brain and throat. He gets intravenous doses of harsh antifungal medication three times a week, he can’t work and his doctors have proposed a tracheotomy to ease his breathing.

Hoover had to skip the end of the less than one-mile trek because his legs hurt, but nevertheless, he made it out to Bakersfield’s second valley fever awareness walk. He walked with others who are still suffering with the disease, those who have survived it and those who have lost loved ones to it.

“I wouldn’t want anybody ever to have valley fever,” he said. “It’s harsh; it’s a battle.”

Hoover came out because there isn’t much support for the little-known disease, which primarily affects the Southwest, he said. Maybe if there were more supporters, there would be enough cash to develop a vaccine that could benefit his nieces and nephews someday, Hoover said.

The Valley Fever Americas Foundation, which hosted the walk, shares that goal. The foundation donates to valley fever research projects and spreads information about the disease. Volunteers passed out swag bags Saturday and wore hats with slogans encouraging readers to ask them about the illness.

Walk volunteer Elizabeth Mulikin said she has been pushing for more attention to the disease for six years since her sister, Eddie Preller, died from valley fever after two years of suffering.

“She made me promise to learn how to say (the name of the disease), to learn everything about it and fix it. And I have not stopped a day since,” Mulikin said.

Teasingly, Hoover prodded Mulikin to pronounce valley fever’s tongue-twister of a title, “Coccidioidomycosis.” He laughed when she quickly spouted it off.

Though the weather was pleasant and the shade plentiful at the Kern County Museum Saturday morning, about 100 fewer people came out for this year’s walk. Nevertheless, Jessica Einstein, the foundation’s director of communications, said about 250 people participated and more raffle tickets were sold this year.

Though two-legged turnout was down, more four-legged participants trotted for valley fever. Dalmatians, retrievers, terriers and other canines followed or tugged their owners along the path winding between the museum’s historic homes and buildings.

Solid boxer Skywalker fidgeted and chocolate Lab Believe slumped to the pavement as JoAnne Rowles and her sister Margaret Throne, the dogs’ respective owners, chatted about the disease and walk.

Rowles said she always thought she’d already had valley fever at some point in her life growing up in Bakersfield. But when she woke up with night sweats and big lumps on her arms one night, she knew for sure she had the disease.

“It just takes all your strength away. I couldn’t even go get my nails done, I was too tired,” she said.

On Saturday, Rowles was happy to meet experts at treating animal valley fever cases — the disease can plague dogs, cats and other creatures. She asked one veterinarian to speak to her dog training club about the risk the fungus poses to pets.

“We’re out and about with our dogs all the time so you know the chances that you can pick up something while you’re out are pretty good,” Rowles said.

Physicians were also on hand at the event to answer questions about how the disease affects humans. Dr. Augustine Munoz, director of pulmonary medicine at Kern Medical Center, said we just don’t know enough about the disease and why it affects different people to varying degrees.

Valley fever is a problem that demands an “army” of physicians and other allies to deal with it, the doctor said.

“There should be three times as many people here,” he said at the walk.

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.

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