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Grand Rapids Woman Shares Experience Battling Blastomycosis

Ryan Juntti
Updated: August 13, 2019 10:19 PM

She is thankfully alive to tell her story today, but in 2010, Jennifer McNellis, now 34, of Grand Rapids began the fight of her life.

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"I started feeling not right like cold symptoms and cough, and I kept doctoring, and they kept thinking it was just pneumonia," said McNellis.

McNellis was put into the ICU, but then it got worse.

"On the 8th of December, I was Life Flighted down to St. Mary's because I was pretty much dying in front of them," said McNellis.

The diagnosis was blastomycosis, an infection from a fungus that lives in the environment, particularly in moist soil, and in decomposing matter such as wood and leaves. In some cases, it can be deadly.

With her family by her side, McNellis was in a coma for six weeks where she nearly died three times. To make matters worse, she also suffered a stroke, which ended up taking away part of her vision and the ability to walk, and drive.

She spent four months in therapy relearning some of those skills. She says she hopes to start driving again, but that it would take both eyes working together to get to that point. She is working with doctors right now to get to that point.  

In May 2011 she was finally sent home and able to be a mom again.

Doctors and her family consider her to be a miracle.

McNellis, and her family say she had "phenomenal" support from the Grand Rapids community while she was fighting blastomycosis.

"I'm just grateful for everything, and everybody who could believe in her. I'm thankful for them and all the prayers because if she wasn't here I don't know where I would be," said Kaylee Christensen, McNellis' 14-year-old daughter.

Now McNellis has advice for others to make sure they don't have to go through what she did.

"Advocate for yourself. I mean a lot of the doctors at least in the Itasca County area don't really see it, so to them it is pneumonia, or it's bronchitis," said McNellis.

Additionally, she says if you suspect you have pneumonia, but are not responding to treatment, to then get tested for blastomycosis. She says it could save your life.

McNellis says she still has ongoing complications as her lungs still have scar tissue. She says she has to make sure she gets treated right away for any condition that will affect the lungs.

The Minnesota Department of Health says blastomycosis is most common in St. Louis, Itasca, Cass, Beltrami, Washington, and Chisago counties.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Wisconsin may have the highest incidence of blastomycosis of any state, with yearly rates ranging from 10 to 40 cases per 100,000 persons in some northern counties.

Symptoms of blastomycosis include: 

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Night sweats
  • Muscle aches or joint pain
  • Weight loss
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue

Credits

Ryan Juntti

Copyright 2019 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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