As an ex-college football player, I get goosebumps over the sweet smell of freshly cut grass in the fall — a sign that football season is upon us. It’s too bad that it puts me at risk for a potentially deadly disease: aspergillosis.
Aspergillosis is a fungal disease caused by the mold Aspergillus fumigatus. It lurks in organic matter such as grass, soil, and dead leaves, and is dispersed into the air by movement. My doors and windows must stay shut for 30 minutes after grass is cut near my house, because A. fumigatus mold spores are flying around.
Since I had a single lung transplant almost four years ago, I am now vulnerable to aspergillosis developing in my lungs. Because of my immunosuppression and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), I have a higher chance of contracting it. All persons who have chronic lung problems or are immunosuppressed are at greater risk.
During my first evaluation appointment for transplant, I was told I could no longer cut grass, plant a garden, lay mulch — basically, anything pertaining to yard work. At the time it wasn’t an issue, as I had a difficult enough time just standing up and walking 20 feet.
I didn’t have a grasp of the seriousness of the situation until I met a woman in the lobby while I was waiting for a doctor appointment. She had endured several bouts of aspergillosis. I asked some questions, and she told me she lives on a cow farm. I was speechless. Being surrounded by cows and their waste has to be the worst environment for a lung transplant patient.
Talking to her put my own life into perspective. I knew then that I wouldn’t deliberately do anything to place myself in danger. I am healthier now, and sometimes I get the itch, but I know I can’t risk everything to play in the dirt.
I follow several online support groups for pulmonary fibrosis and lung transplantation, and I am amazed at how many people disregard their gift of life through reckless behavior. I loved working around the house, but I would never expose myself unnecessarily to the A. fumigatus fungus.
People comment on how they miss cutting grass and doing yard work, and how a part of their life has been taken away; I am wondering if they’ve got a screw loose. They often say they are wearing a special type of mask to ward off the minuscule mold spores, but I would rather not take the chance.
I am now relegated to a supervisory position with work around the house. Several years ago, my wife and I began putting in an extensive landscaping project. We adjust it and add to it every year. My wife and a student I have mentored for five years do the work.
We also plant a vegetable garden. I am proud to say my student’s efforts have produced an abundance of fruit. As long as I don’t go and ruffle up the dirt, the garden is considered a safe zone from the mold spores; however, I wear a vogmask when I am in it.
I do miss working in the yard, but I get more satisfaction out of staying healthy. There is a high mortality rate associated with contracting aspergillosis, and I would rather not be part of that statistic.
Please share your experience with aspergillosis. If you have a transplant, how do you protect yourself against or avoid A. fumigatus mold spores?
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.