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Michigan chef dies from rare fungal infection: "He was a great kid"

Michigan chef dies of rare fungal infection
Michigan chef dies of rare fungal infection 06:03
Michigan chef dies from rare fungal infection
Ian Pritchard's family said he was initially hospitalized in Petosky before he was transported to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, where he stayed from the end of November until his death on Saturday, Feb. 3. Courtesy of Ian Pritchard's family

(CBS DETROIT) - A 29-year-old Michigan man died last week after a rare fungal infection.

Ian Pritchard's family said he was initially hospitalized in Petosky before he was transported to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, where he stayed from the end of November until his death on Saturday, Feb. 3.

His family said what they thought was just an abscess on his prostate was eventually found to be blastomycosis. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, blastomycosis is an infection caused by the fungus Blastomyces. Health officials say the fungus lives in moist soil as well as wood and leaves in the Midwest, south-central and southeastern states.

People can contract it by breathing in fungal spores in the air and can become serious if not treated.

The CDC says it is uncommon with a yearly incidence rate of less than or equal to two cases per 100,000 population. Eight to 9% of people with the infection have died.

Ian's family says the infection impacted his lungs, leading to him being on life support. The hope was for either his lungs to fully heal or he get a lung transplant once the infection was cleared.

His father, Ronald Pritchard, said his son was on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine for weeks, but this past weekend, the 29-year-old asked to be taken off the machine.

"He was starting to get frail, and he just had enough ... He told us that he wanted to go home," he said. "I said 'Well, you have to clarify what you mean because we can't take these machines home. We have to unplug you from the machines, and if we do that, you'll pass away. You'll die.' And he shook his head that he knew, and we said 'Is that what you want?' and he shook his head."

Ronald said his son also had an abscess in his throat months before his prostate, and he worried if the two abscesses were related.

He described his son as someone who loved the outdoors, his family, and his dog, whom he taught to fist-bump. Sadly, Ian's dog died months before his death, and his family wondered if the infection played a role.

Ian worked at a Mexican restaurant in Harbor Springs, where he could "make a mean burrito," and Ronald said his coworkers were supportive, even offering help.

Friday, Feb. 9, would've been Ian's 30th birthday.

"He was a great kid. He was so fun, so easy to raise, and he was no trouble. He loved and protected his sister," Ronald said.

When it began

Ronald, who lives in Boyne City, said his son began experiencing pain in the prostate area just before Thanksgiving. He said Ian went to the hospital, and he was diagnosed with prostatitis, which is inflammation of the prostate.

He was sent home, but the pain remained.

"His job kept sending him because he was doubled-up in so much pain while he was trying to cook. So, finally, he went to go back to the emergency room in Petoskey, and they diagnosed him with an abscess on his prostate," he told CBS News Detroit. That's when they checked him in to the hospital. Shortly after they checked him in, they said 'Uh oh, you've got a bigger problem than that,' and it was the problem with his lungs."

"My wife and I are just blown by how it goes from 'Oh you have an abscess on your prostate' to 'Oh, you have Swiss cheese-sized holes in your lungs. You're gonna have to fight for your life now."

Ronald and his wife visited Ian every weekend.

He said after Ian requested to be taken off life support, they asked him multiple times to be sure before calling in nurses.

"We held his hands and rubbed his head. He had a thing when he was a baby. If I rubbed between his eyes, he'd go right to sleep as a baby, and it worked every time. I did a little bit of that, and I asked him if he remembered that and he said yes. We told him that we loved him and we were proud of him," Ronald said. "We didn't want to see him go, but if that's what he wanted, we'd see him on the other side."

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