January 23, 2024

Conquering a Chronic Lung Infection

Gifts from Grateful Patient David Shoots are Helping to Piece Together the Puzzles behind Poor Lung Health

Lung problems plagued David Shoots since his youth. It would take buying a dream cottage as an adult for him to finally piece together the puzzle behind his poor health: a rare, but life-threatening, fungal infection known as chronic pulmonary aspergillosis (CPA).

As a teen, David grew up in a home that frequently flooded, causing mould to flourish. Later, his lungs collapsed at different times. He received surgery, which helped his condition, but provided no clear answers about the cause.

After marrying and having kids of his own, David bought a cottage in Bruce County as a second home for his Brantford-based family. The cottage had a musty odour but, at the time, no one thought twice about it. That is until David got really sick.

“One summer, I started having symptoms like a pneumonia. The fever, chest pain, night sweats and coughing wouldn’t go away – even after being hammered with antibiotics and steroids,” David recalls.

Doctors, too, were stumped by David’s symptoms and the CT scans showing shadowing on his lungs. Unable to provide him with a clear cause for his illness, David started to seek out his own answers.

“I don’t even know why but I started looking into mould exposure,” he says. “And the more I looked into it, the more I thought, ‘that could actually be the problem.’ That’s when I contacted Dr. David Denning at the University of Manchester.”

In hearing David’s story, Dr. Denning – a world-renowned expert in fungal diseases – connected with his specialists in Canada over email, validating his concerns. To be certain, David visited St. Joe’s Firestone Institute for Respiratory Health for testing. There, under the care of respirologist Dr. Gerard Cox, David was finally able to get the answers he needed.

Dr. Cox diagnosed David with CPA, a condition caused by a common mould that lives indoors and outdoors. While most people breathe aspergillus spores every day without getting sick, for some, like David, it can lead to a lung infection requiring a powerful antifungal drug to treat.

Because aspergillosis is rare – an estimated 1.8 per cent of Canadians are affected by serious fungal infections – it often goes undiagnosed. Unfortunately, aspergillosis also doesn’t go away.

“The medication doesn’t cure the infection but keeps it at bay,” David says. “And while I’ve been doing better ever since, I still have problems, like bad bronchiectasis where my lungs can’t clear phlegm naturally. But I’m well enough to live a relatively close-to-normal life. And when I have a flareup, Dr. Cox is my doc and I know he’ll take care of me.”

Today, David credits Dr. Cox and his team for not only taking years of debilitating symptoms seriously, but also for saving his life. In many climates outside of Canada where mould runs rampant, chronic aspergillosis is a “hidden disease” that often gets misdiagnosed. Deaths are attributed to tuberculosis instead, David says.

That’s why David shares his story widely – to raise awareness about the realities of fungal infections. And that’s why, over the years since David was diagnosed, his Hyundai dealership in Brantford has donated nearly $30,000 to St. Joe’s to help advance research into lung health. His hope is that, one day, respiratory researchers will find better treatments or a cure for aspergillosis, as well as other diseases of the lung.

“I have to be very cautious because of COVID-19,” David says. “I avoid breathing in any particles of any kind. I can’t go into a dusty barn, and I definitely can’t go outside if there are air quality issues, like smoke from the recent wildfire events.”

“But there’s a lot of people who have it a lot worse, like people living with lung cancer. So, that’s why I donate to St. Joe’s. Because the Hospital was there for me when I was looking for answers. And through more research, doctors like Dr. Cox will be able to provide other patients with the answers they need, too. I’m so thankful that Dr. Cox took the time to figure out my case.”

This story was originally published in our 2022-23 Donor Impact Report. Click here to read the full report and discover other inspiring stories from our supporters.

Photo above: Dr. Gerard Cox (far right) is pictured in a laboratory in the Firestone Institute for Respiratory Health.

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