Reporting Rachel Slavik
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Most of us will write off a sniffle or two as the common cold or flu. One of our own here at WCCO did just that, but the condition got so bad he needed surgery.
The health issue was caused by mold, and he shared his story in hopes that others don’t overlook some very common symptoms.
As a photographer at WCCO, Tony Peterson lives a life behind the camera. But a health concern, made him want to step in front of the lens.
“I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” he said. “It’s cliché, but you never think it would happen to you, but it did.”
Last year, Peterson developed a sinus problem that wouldn’t go away.
“Flu-like symptoms I started getting sick and I thought it was just the flu,” he said.
After numerous trips to the doctor, he learned that aspergillus mold spores, a very common type of mold, colonized in his sinus.
“I strongly believe that I inhaled a large amount of mold spores in a building that I was living in,” he said.
Surgery soon followed.
“These particular spores like places that are dark and moist, and the sinuses are dark and moist,” said Dr. Caicedo Granados, Peterson’s doctor.
Peterson said they pulled out more than a cup full of the mold from his sinuses.
After surgery Peterson still knew something wasn’t right. He had chronic headaches and eventually had a seizure on Nicollet Mall. Mold was still in his sinus and pushing closer to his brain.
“Severe pain they always ask me one to 10, it’s 10 plus,”
Dr. Granados performed Peterson’s second surgery using tools that made it possible to reach his upper sinuses.
“I think he was one of the most extensive cases I’ve seen,” Granados said.
During the three-hour surgery doctors again found mold, from small clumps to larger clusters.
While Peterson’s case is extreme, Dr. Granados sees several cases a year. Left unchecked, it can be deadly.
“It could happen to anyone, absolutely,” he said.
All cases usually start the same way.
“First of all, the symptoms are subtle. Usually they can be confused with regular or acute sinusitis,” Granados said.
That’s how David Roos remembers his first sign of trouble.
“Feels like a sinus infection, it feels real full,” said David Roos, who had mold removed from his sinus.
Like Peterson, Roos visited several doctors who misdiagnosed him until he went to the Mayo Clinic in 2005. Doctors removed the mold from his sinus, but the sinus problems weren’t over.
“The mold showed up for awhile, it didn’t go away immediately,” he said.
Now, six years later, Roos spends time every day dealing with his sinuses. Twice a day, he washes out his nasal cavity in addition to taking antibiotics and other medication.
“Now it’s become part of my routine,” he said.
It will take some time before Peterson finds out if he has any lingering effects.
For now, he’s enjoying being pain-free for the first time in a year.
“Maybe it’s a kick in the butt that says get going, finish the things you want to do,” Peterson said.
It’s a scare that’s changed the way he views his health and a lesson he wants to share with others.
“I’ve always been reluctant to go to the doctor,” he said. “If you’re sick more than two weeks, go in, get it checked out.”
Doctors say this type of infection typically only happens to people with a weakened immune system. They usually have to be exposed to mold for a long time or high concentrations.