Student Contracts Rare, Airborne Fungus - New York News

Student Contracts Rare, Airborne Fungus

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Nearly five months ago, an Augsburg University student was living the life of a normal 21-year-old. Then, he got sick with a rare airborne fungus and has been hospitalized ever since.

Although Nick Sam is on the mend, doctors do not know if he'll be able to get back to the "normal" college life any time soon. In fact, Sam told Fox 9 News it could take him another year, which would mark 18 months from the day he got sick due to an fungus found in soil that is known to kill dogs and humans.

After nearly half a year of hospitalization, Sam uses his sense of humor as therapy -- but the illness that overtook him last year is no joke. It began with headaches, spinal pain and finger numbness. For months, doctors struggle to pinpoint the cause.

"Big mystery," Lori Schwegman said. "It's an elusive monster."

On Oct. 23rd, things took a serious turn.

"I got right on the edge of the bed, and that's when it happened," Sam recalled. "I collapsed right there."

According to Schwegman, Sam was very close to death -- and diagnosis didn't come until 6 weeks ago. The culprit was blastomycosis, a fungus found in soil that can attack the central nervous system. In fact, it's the same infection that claimed the life of their dog in 2012.

Schwegman said the spores that are in the ground near their riverfront home become airborne once the water recedes, but its' still impossible to tell where he picked it up.

"It's more scary than anything because it can happen anytime, anywhere to anyone," he said.

Now, Sam is a shell of his old self. The infection caused fluid to build up in his brain, and that has left him weak in his limbs -- even the trunk of his body. That means he can no longer golf, fish or play basketball -- but he's not giving up. Instead, he's improving. Just two weeks ago, he walked for first time since his hospitalization.

"I think I might be even better than I was," he said. "Sounds weird, but I will be."

Sam is also looking forward. In fact, he can't wait until the day when he will spring out of the hospital.

"I pray every night for it, but all you can do is work, work, work," he said.

Sam hopes he will be released from St. Mary's next week, and then he will probably head to a rehab facility. Anyone who would like to help the family cover the cost of his extended medical stay can do so online here.

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