Arizona woman loses lung after ten-year battle with Valley fever symptoms: 'Thankful even to be alive'

An Arizona woman is cautioning others during the monsoon season after her lung collapsed from a decade-long bout of Valley fever.

"This is so serious, I'm so thankful even to be alive," said Alexandra Soto. "But at 26 I never thought I would have a brand new baby, one lung and no latissimus muscle."

Soto was diagnosed with Valley fever ten years ago, and despite taking antifungal medications, she still suffered from long-term symptoms stemming from the disease. 

"Extremely horrible fatigue, joint pain, aches, night sweats, could not figure out what was going on, it was so severe there were times I couldn't even get out of bed," she said, recalling her initial symptoms. "Went in thinking I had maybe mono, and that's when they tested me for Valley fever."

Valley fever is a fungus that lives in the soil, but the spores can spread through the air into our bodies. This happened most often during monsoon season when dust storms tear across Arizona.

"In the entire world two-thirds of all Valley fever infections are in Arizona and 80% in Maricopa County," said Donese Worden, a naturopathic medical doctor with the Naturopathic Medical Association. "Many are misdiagnosed, your doctor doesn't test for it, so they give you an inappropriate medicine rather than an antifungal, which is the only kind that is going to work."

Last year, Alexandra had to get off her anti-fungal medication because she was pregnant with her little girl, Charlie.

She was delivered healthy, but a few weeks later, Alexandra got sick again. Concerned, she reached out to her pulmonologist to ask for an X-ray.

What they found was a nearly collapsed lung hallway full of fluid.

"We tried to do some valves that went into the mouth, so those air leaks could close, but that didn't work," she said. "So they did a thoracotomy, everything was good, then I ended up with another air leak, this time in front of my chest."

She ended up needing to have her lung completely removed. 

While her life will never go completely back to normal, Alexandra says she is now getting better and hopes her experience will educate others to avoid the same pain.

"I am on this earth to spread awareness about how important this is, and everybody has the ability to stop this from getting to the point of where I was at," Soto said.

Doctors recommend getting tested for Valley fever if people experience symptoms in order to be treated as soon as possible.

If you're outside and see a dust storm moving through, get inside as soon as possible.

Learn more about Valley fever here.