Kern Medical made strides in the fight against valley fever Wednesday following a generous donation from Kern Health Systems.
23ABC News spoke to a patient who is lucky to have survived the disease and gathered details more from medical professionals about how they plan to allocate the proceeds from he donation.
From soil, to lungs, to your entire body patients like 21-year-old Ashley Villegas know what it’s like to live with valley fever, “Feeling like I was dying was like the worst part of it. When I was in hospice I couldn’t walk for ten months because it was in my bones so that valley fever got to my bones, so I was in a wheelchair for ten months as well and I had to go to physical therapy to learn how to walk again,” valley fever patient Ashley Villegas said.
After two misdiagnosis, Villegas who was pregnant at the time was forced into labor early when her body was not responding to antibiotic treatment for ongoing fevers, seizures and constant headaches, “Oh it makes me look at life completely different cause you know I would have never thought that I would have this disease that I would have to like go to treatment every week or like take pills for the rest of my life,” Villegas said.
According to Villegas it was a miracle that both her and her toddler survived labor, “Instantly they’re just like we have to get the baby out of her so they could start giving me treatment and medications so that it wouldn’t affect the baby so I got induced two days later. I had her natural and everything went good but at that time my mom did have to sign a consent saying that me or my daughter weren’t going to make it we weren’t originally both suppose to make it, it was either or but we both did.”
After Wednesday patients like Villegas will receive further support following Kern Health Systems $100,000 check donation to Kern Medical for valley fever education, research, patient care and awareness. “It allows us to care for our patients in usual fashion we are trying to up our game in terms of the public understanding this disease better so that they get diagnosed more early. We are trying to improve the knowledge of the professional community about the disease so that the disease is diagnosed and cared for more appropriately,” Director of Valley Fever Institute Kern Medical Royce Johnson said.
Johnson said over the past five years he has seen the number of cases increase across the state and that Kern County is known for having the most cases. According to Kern County Public Health in 2013 there were 201 cases and just last year in 2017 there were 325 cases.
Johnson hopes that by educating the community with the help of the proceeds Wednesday, patients and doctors will better understand the syptomology to detect the early signs even though there is no cure for it as of now. “It presents as a respiratory illness not unlike influenza or pneumonia and it’s commonly misdiagnosed as what’s called community acquired pneumonia meaning bacterial disease. The disease is clinically somewhat different it’s a bit more slow in it’s onset than bacterial pneumonia. But if you have pneumonia and you live where we live on the differential diagnosis of that illness has to be included valley fever and everyone patients and the profession need to be aware of that and be prepared to analyze the case in that light,” Johnson said.
As for Villegas she’s just happy her and her family made it and that future patients will have extra support, “It means a lot because the Vorieconazole, the pill that I am taking is what’s bringing my numbers from my valley fever down to where I can live a normal life. So it’s what’s keeping me alive, it’s what’s keeping me going it’s what’s making me better. So that check means a lot it’s just like hope for other people to get better,” Villegas said.
If you are concerned that you may have valley fever or may be experiencing symptoms contact the Valley Fever Institute Kern Medical as soon as possible at 661-706-6748.