The first stories in the Reporting on Health Collaborative’s series on valley fever, called ‘Just One Breath,’ ran this weekend in the Bakersfield Californian, the Merced Sun-Star, the Stockton Record, the Voice of OC, and KVPR. They will run in Vida en el Valle, in Spanish, on Wednesday.
Valley fever is often regarded as a fact of life in Central California. But the first stories in the ‘Just One Breath’ series reveal that even as the disease reaches epidemic proportions, the disease and its impact remain hidden, due to widespread misdiagnosis, a lack of research funding, and a history of neglect by state and federal policymakers.
Behind those cases of valley fever are people whose lives have been forever changed by the disease. Each individual story is uniquely devastating, but there are some common themes: People suffer as their range of symptoms confound doctors. Their school and professional work, and their passions and lives, suffer due to their illness. They express frustration that, even in highly endemic parts of the state, there is little understanding of the disease.
These stories are best told in people’s own voices.And the series has already featured some moving personal stories:
Emily Gorospe, 7, was too sick and tired to dance – let alone walk through the halls of her family’s Delano home – when she first contracted Valley Fever. She’s now lived with the disease for more than a year, and has developed coping skills for her many doctors’ visits.
But despite her bravery, Emily has struggled with having a serious illness at such a young age. Her constant refrain for the past year has been: “I hate valley fever. Why did it have to pick me?
Todd Schaefer was diagnosed with spinal fungal meningitis in the fall of 2003. But heavy antifungal drugs with harsh side effects, coupled with other health complications, have made his condition hell, he said.
Schaefer and his wife, Tammy, own an award-winning winery, Pacific Coast Vineyards. But during an early August interview, Schaefer said he had worked just two days in the past six months. “I need to get an exorcist,” he said. “I am possessed. I hate it. I’m so sick of it. Get it out of me!”
We want to hear your experience with valley fever, too.
On Tuesday morning, our reporting on the disease will be featured on Valley Public Radio’s ‘Valley Edition’ program at 9 a.m. Kirt Emery, health assessment and epidemiology program manager for the Kern County Public Health Services Department, and Dr. John N. Galgiani, director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence, will also join the discussion.
We hope you will call in to share your story, and help put a human face on this disease. The studio line is 800-224-8989.
This week, there has been a lot of buzz on the Internet about the law, schools’ new menus and child nutrition. Here is a peak at two regional organizations that are focusing on nutrition in schools and communities.
In a recent editorial, the young people at The kNOw said they are hopeful that they can help reverse the childhood obesity epidemic in the region and nationwide.
One reason we’re so hopeful: Our culture is in favor of healthy weight in children. No one says, “I’m ok with obese kids.” People universally agree that healthy weight in kids is important. Unlike reducing youth violence, working on obesity in kids doesn’t call for a change of culture. It requires a change of what’s available and what’s easiest. Kids will be healthy if it’s an easy option.
How are you and your family bringing a fresh focus to child nutrition?
The walk is an opportunity for people to learn more about the symptoms of Valley Fever, also known as coccidioidomycosis. People contract the disease by breathing in fungus spores that are endemic to Central California, as well as parts of Arizona and New México.
The walk is also a chance for people with the disease, and those who lost loved ones or pets to it, to connect and find support.
And it’s an opportunity for people to record their personal experiences with Valley Fever.
I will be joining Louis Amestoy of The Bakersfield Californian at the event to collect people’s stories in video, words, and photos. The stories will help put a compelling, human face on a disease that many people think is “a myth or a joke,” according to Sandra Larson, executive director of the Valley Fever Américas Foundation.
The project is an initiative of the Health Journalism Fellowships at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism. It is made possible with the support of The California Endowment.
If you will be attending tomorrow’s walk, please visit us and share your story. If you can’t make it to the walk, but would like to share your experience with Valley Fever, leave me a note in the comments section below, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Monday and Tuesday mornings, more than 200 workers from Gargiulo, Inc. participated in a labor strike along Manning Avenue in rural Mendota.
By the time I arrived to the field site around 8 a.m. yesterday, the San Joaquín Valley was already beginning to bake. The workers wore their typical field clothing: long pants, long shirts, hats, and bandanas covering their heads and mouths. But instead of picking tomatoes, the workers waved the United Farm Workers’ red flag as cars and trucks zoomed down the road, as they had done since about 4 a.m.
The workers decided to strike, “to demand better working conditions, better treatment and, most importantly, respect, including a better salary,” Antonio Cortes, the UFW’s internal organizer coordinator, told me in Spanish. The workers’ main concern, he said, is the employer, “has made many promises, but they have not kept these promises.”
For example, “we ask for a wage increase, and they say they will give it to us – but we are deceived,” explained employee Jesús Zúñiga, who has been with the company since 1999.
Around 8:15 a.m., the farmworkers traveled to the company’s packinghouse in Firebaugh, where workers like Marcelino Pacheco, above – who had already signed a card authorizing the UFW to represent him, and had proudly pinned it to his shirt – encouraged the packinghouse workers to join their push for union representation. They chanted various slogans: Que es lo que queremos? Un contrato! (What do we want? A contract!) and Si no piscamos, no se empaca! (If we don’t pick, there is nothing to pack!)
The video below captures the energy of the morning:
UPDATE: This morning between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m., the Gargiulo workers voted on whether to unionize or not. The votes will be counted at 11:30 a.m.
There is a moment – when I am driving over the Grapevine from Southern California, and begin the descent into Central California – when I see the entire San Joaquín Valley expand before me.
Despite the regional issues I often write about – like air pollution, contaminated drinking water, health disparities, and poverty – my heart fills with joy at the sight of the abundant Valley.
I haven’t yet picked up ‘Valley of Shadows and Dreams,’ a book of essays and photographs about the Central Valley by Ken and Melanie Light, but I suspect it captures some of these contradictions.
On their website, the Lights’ project is described as a “five-year photography journey of a region known for its agricultural plenty – and the marginalization of its people.” The book, “digs deep into the harsh truths of farm workers’ daily experience in California’s Central Valley and takes a hard look at the legacies of politics, bureaucracy and control in the region.”
Interested in learning more?
Ken and Melanie Light will be at Arte Américas tomorrow (June 2) for a reception, conversation and book signing. The reception, featuring musical guests Patrick Contreras and Steve Ono, begins at 4:30, and the conversation starts at 5:15, with the book signing to follow.
The films – presented by HBO and the Institute of Medicine, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, in partnership with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and Kaiser Permanente – feature case studies, interviews with health experts, and the stories of individuals and families struggling with obesity, according to the film’s website.
Here’s a trailer for the films:
Will you be tuning in? And do you think this film can make an impact in the San Joaquín Valley, where 70.9 pecent of Latino adults are overweight or obese?
If you don’t have HBO – or if you are interested in watching the films again with other Valley residents – consider attending a partial screening at the John W. Wells Youth Center in Madera on May 30 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The event, hosted by Central Valley Health Network’s HEAL Zone and Kaiser Permanente, will also include a panel discussion intended to inspire ideas about how to make Madera a healthier place to live.
Pictured above: There are already some great obesity-prevention efforts in the San Joaquín Valley, including the Community Food Bank’s food demonstrations, and a walking path at the Selma flea market.
Sofía Gática, of Córdoba, Argentina, was one of six people honored with the international Goldman Prize today. The award, which comes with a prize of $150,00, bills itself as the “world’s largest prize honoring grassroots environmentalism.”
Gática’s story will resonate with San Joaquín Valley residents who have fought for years for health-protective laws regarding pesticides.
About 13 years ago, Gática’s baby daughter died of kideny failure. She soon noticed that residents in her working-class neighborhood of Ituzaingo were also suffering from alarming rates of leukemia, lupus and other diseases, according to this San Francisco Chronicle article.
Gática, who had only a high school education and no organizing experience, formed the group Mothers of Ituzaingó. They went door-to-door in their neighborhood, which is surrounded by soy bean fields, and discovered that pesticides were having a disastrous impact on the health of their community.
They found that only two households had not suffered from illness, according to the Chronicle. That spurred them to begin protesting the use of weed killers with a “Stop Spraying” campaign.
Their efforts eventually led to a ban on aerial spraying of agrochemicals within 2,500 meters of homes. (In comparison, some Valley counties have pesticide buffer zones of 400 meters.)
The short movie below captures Gática’s inspiring story.
When I spoke on the phone with Gática on Monday, I asked her if she had advice for Valley residents who were also concerned about the health impacts of pesticides. Valley communities have also experienced pesticide drift, and inexplicable health problems.
“I recommend demanding the rights to health and the environment,” she said.
She also recommended demanding the right to information – about what types of pesticides are being used, how they are being applied, and close to schools and homes they are being used.
Tracey Brieger, co-director of Californians for Pesticide Reform, said Gática’s story and advice is an inspiration to Valley residents fighting for health-protective pesticide laws.
Gática’s story, “would be a reminder that communities across the world are facing the same problems with pesticides, and it is very important to learn from each other,” Brieger said.
“The regulations and the rules are stronger in Argentina than they are here in California. We need to learn what it actually looks like to be health-protective.”
The Assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color held a regional hearing at Fresno City Hall last Friday.
This was no ordinary hearing.
The hearing was intended to investigate ways to improve the lives of young men of color in communities across the state. And in Fresno – where boys and men of color comprised 65.2 percent of the city’s total male population in 2010 – there is a lot of room for improvement.
But this extraordinary hearing proved that despite the social and educational challenges facing young men of color, there is a lot to be hopeful about.
Minutes into the hearing, Roosevelt High School students “flashmobbed” the Fresno City Council Chambers, and began singing and dancing to the Black Eyes Peas song, ‘One Tribe.’ Everyone in the packed audience – and especially the legislators on the dais – clapped to the beat of the song.
Throughout the hearing, young people shared their stories of struggle and triumph. At times, I found myself wiping tears from my eyes, instead of taking notes. (You can read more about these stories in this week’s edition of Vida.)
Toward the end of the hearing, Sammy Nuñez, of Fathers and Families of San Joaquín, complimented the youth on their performance.
“Earlier today we saw our young people do a phenomenal job – they rocked the place,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going on, but I loved every minute of it.”
Then he launched into a performance of his own, reciting the lyrics of ‘The Rose That Grew from Concrete,’ by Tupac Shakur:
You see, you wouldn’t ask why the rose that grew from the concrete had damaged petals. On the contrary, we would all celebrate its tenacity. We would all love its will to reach the sun. Well, we are the rose – this is the concrete – and these are my damaged petals.
Based on all of those performance, I’d say there is enough energy, commitment, and passion to bring #BMOC Justice to Fresno.
Boys and Men of Color, previously on Harvesting Health:
What would you do if horrible smells of human waste and gas began wafting into your neighborhood? How would you respond if those smells began sickening your own children, elementary school students, and community residents?
When Celia García, below, was faced with the nightmarish reality last year in her hometown of Mecca, in the Eastern Coachella Valley, she responded by becoming an environmental and community advocate.
As you can read in ‘An advocate blooms in the desert,’ the second story in Vida’s series, Latinos Protecting la Tierra, García and her boys went door-to-door in a neighborhood in sight of a soil recycling facility, to inform people of the situation. She joined a group, Líderes por un Mecca Limpio, to remind residents that the smell could be a symptom of a more dangerous environmental problem. She stood up to government officials, and demanded answers.
In this awesome audio slide show, created by Alejandra Alarcón of Coachella Unincorporated, García explains that she did all of this to protect the health of her family, and her community. She is still inspired by a comment her nephew made last winter, after his school was evacuated due to the sickening odor.
García’s nephew, C.J., said he no longer felt safe at school and, “for me that was heartbreaking,” she says at the end of the slide show. “And that day it became so personal and since that day, I knew there was no way that I would ever feel that way again. And I know that this community is worth all the fight, and all the attention, and all the hard work that’s being put into it.”
Verónica Mendoza and her daughter, Joanna, pictured below, are also featured as part of Latinos Protecting la Tierra this week. Verónica and Joanna live in the Tulare County community of Cutler, where the drinking water is contaminated by the long-banned pesticide DBCP.
Joanna, 16, was featured in this Nick News program about communities throughout the world that don’t have access to safe drinking water.
Lupe Martínez has – quite literally – played a role in two of the state’s great social justice movements.
As an organizer and leader for the United Farm Workers, and then the environmental justice movement, Martínez can always be counted on to sing and strum songs, including ‘De Colores’ – the UFW’s unofficial anthem – as a way to motivate and unify people.
But there’s a story behind his guitar skills.
In a recent interview, in advance of Vida’s upcoming series on environmental justice leaders, Martínez said he developed his musical skills during a challenging period in his life.
In 1977, Martínez, then a farmworker, was fired after his employer discovered he had been attempting to organize his fellow workers around UFW causes.
“I got blacklisted,” he said, explaining that no other companies would hire him. Martínez started playing the guitar, “out of hunger, and paying my bills,” he said.
“The guitar came as a result of the need – and I needed bad,” he said.
He learned how to play the guitar, and then started performing in bars. Eventually, he started to make a living off it.
Just as the guitar gave him hope during a period of unemployment, his music has also brought people encouragement.
“Anytime there is a rally, you can always count on Lupe and his guitar to motivate people and give them courage,” said Kettleman City resident Maricela Mares-Alatorre.
Music, “just releases sometimes a lot of the pressure that’s on that moment,” said Martínez, who is now the assistant director of the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. “And it just unites people – period.”
The video clip below features Martínez singing at a Central California Environmental Justice Network meeting in Wasco.
Read more about Martínez’s roles in the farmworker and environmental justice movements in next week’s edition of Vida en el Valle.