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My Valley, My Story: Valley Fever After Decades Of Dust

Kerry Klein/KVPR
James Taplin, right, has mostly recovered from a bout with valley fever that kept him in the hospital for a month in 2010. He stands here with Sean Young at the 2016 Valley Fever Walk in Bakersfield.

The fungal disease can afflict individuals of any age and ethnic group—even those who have lived and worked in the valley for decades. As part of our first-person series My Valley, My Story, we travel to the annual Valley Fever Walk in Bakersfield, where a 54-year-old Kern County man shares his story of overcoming the disease.  

"My name is James Taplin. I was diagnosed in 2010 and, like many others, I thought I had pneumonia, but I went to my primary physician who thought I was having a heart attack. I ended up in Bakersfield Heart Hospital where they diagnosed me pretty much immediately--and I'm of the firm belief that it saved my life.

"I was in the hospital nearly a month, and it took me a year to heal. Maybe not completely, but almost get there. I actually initially got worse. I went through the whole thing: I bottomed out, and resuscitation, and all those things that people don't really like to talk about. When I got out of the hospital I could not literally open a bottle of water. I just had no strength.

"I feel like it was a blessing that I was able to come back.

Credit Kerry Klein/KVPR

I'm an environmental engineer, so I work a lot in the oilfields. They told me that I had it and I thought, 'I've been here all my life.' I knew what it was, but I couldn't have even told you it was a fungus disease. Other people got it--that's just what I knew.

"But I think it was part of work and working in the fields and dust. And that's why I try to share what I went through. Most people don't go through what I went through but I probably would have tried to find something else to do.

"I'm fortunate to be here but the trade-off could've been not worth it."

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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