A Red Deer man who says he almost died from fungus in his lungs is warning dumpster divers to be careful.
Larry Dick, 60, said he was fine when he went to bed at 11 p.m. on April 22, but awoke at 2 a.m. and couldn’t breathe.
He grabbed his cellphone and called 911.
“Thank God for cellphones. I was on life-support for 12 days,” Dick said.
Dick said he was in intensive care unit at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre for several days recovering from hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which is inflammation of the lungs due to breathing in a foreign substance, usually dust, fungus or mold.
He said because he was so sick, his daughter in Saskatchewan was notified. Staff called her twice while she was driving to Red Deer saying if she wanted to say her goodbyes she’d better get to the hospital quickly.
He can’t recall his family visiting or anything that happened until his 22nd day in ICU.
Dick said his lungs are now scarred and will likely be on oxygen for the rest of his life.
He was released from hospital last Thursday.
Heather Kipling, spokesperson with Alberta Health Services in Red Deer, said public health does not track the illness.
Dr. Margaret Kelly, a pathologist at Calgary Lab Services, is doing research on hypersensitivity pneumonitis and why some people go on to get lung fibrosis (scarring) and others don’t.
“I haven’t heard dumpster diving as a cause of hypersensitivity pneumonitis, but definitely you can be stirring up all sorts of nasty things and then breath them in and get infections. It probably is a hazard for getting a lung infection,” Kelly said.
“(Hypersensitivity pneumonitis) is something you get with repeated exposure. So unless it’s the same moulds he’s been exposed to, it’s unlikely.”
Hypersensitivity pneumonitis is a reaction to a person’s environment, for example at their job or home, she said.
“It can actually be very quiet and silent, and you can be exposed to things but you don’t feel ill. A low-grade exposure going on, a low-grade inflammation, and that goes on to fibrosis.”
Kelly said the condition is often misdiagnosed and the medical community doesn’t have a good handle on how many people are affected. But farmers have a 20 times higher incidence from breathing in bacterium spores that can grow in warm hay.
The day he got sick, Dick was at a friend’s farm where he regularly helps out. But he suspects he breathed in the fungus while going into dumpsters for bottles and cans for a few weeks prior to his emergency trip to the hospital.
“It wasn’t the barn. I’d been in there hundreds of times. I’m darn sure it’s from diving in the dumpster, because you never know what goes in one of them,” said Dick, a former welder who previously had pneumonia four times.
He said people searching through dumpsters — and there’s a lot of them — should beware.
He also wanted to thank the ICU staff.
“They are awesome. I can’t say enough about them.
“Whenever there is a problem in a hospital, everyone in the world knows it. But if anything good happens, nobody hears it.”
And Dick hoped that by telling his story he could help others.
“(Hospital staff) saved my life. I might be able to save somebody else’s.”