"They showed us a picture of his lungs, and they literally looked like Swiss cheese,” said Ron Pritchard after his son Ian was diagnosed with blastomycosis
A Michigan chef has died after contracting a rare fungal infection that had “eaten large holes” in his lungs.
Ian Pritchard, a 29-year-old chef from Petoskey, was admitted to the hospital after experiencing flu-like symptoms the week before Thanksgiving. After arriving, his condition quickly deteriorated and he was transported to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, where doctors determined that he had a rare fungal infection in his lungs called blastomycosis.
Blastomycosis is an infection caused by a fungus called blastomyces, which lives in the environment, particularly in moist soil and in decomposing matter such as wood and leaves, according to the CDC.
People can get blastomycosis after breathing in the microscopic fungal spores from the air, the CDC says. Although most people who breathe in the spores don’t get sick, some people will develop symptoms like fever and cough, and the infection can sometimes become serious if it is not treated.
"It’s in the air, it’s in the trees, it’s in the wet leaves, it’s in the ground, it’s in the mud, it’s in, everywhere,” Ian’s father, Ron Pritchard, told WPBN. “Everywhere in northern Michigan – in fact, the Midwest – is covered in [blastomyces]."
Ron also explained that the infection had “eaten large holes” in his son’s lungs, adding, "They showed us a picture of his lungs, and they literally looked like Swiss cheese.”
Ian was later placed on life support and in a medically induced coma while receiving treatment. Blastomycosis is typically treated with an antifungal medication and depending on the severity, treatment can range from six months to one year, according to the CDC.
In Ian’s case, treatment was a slow process. He was also in “critical condition” and would not be able to receive a life-saving lung transplant until the infection was gone.
While in the hospital, longtime friends of the family created a GoFundMe page on their behalf to raise money for his recovery and medical bills.
According to a Dec. 27 update on the account, Ian was taken out of the medically induced coma but was still heavily sedated, only able to communicate with non-verbal cues. His family said, “Ian is very aware and very much wanting to fight to live.”
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However, Ian died the evening of Feb. 3, just days before his 30th birthday, surrounded by his parents and sister.
“Ron and his family are obviously devastated and heartbroken,” an announcement on the GoFundMe stated. “Ron told me it was Ian's decision to come off life-support. He was quite alert today and indicated to them that he was ready to go. The young man has been in the hospital since the week before Thanksgiving… over 11 weeks ago if you recall. The Blastomycosis fungal infection ravaged Ian’s lungs beyond repair.”
There is no vaccine to prevent blastomycosis, and the CDC says it may not be possible to completely avoid exposure to the fungus that causes the infection, especially in areas where it’s common.
People who have weakened immune systems may want to consider avoiding activities that involve disrupting soil in these areas, per the CDC.
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