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Center for Health Journalism

A Husband’s Untimely Death and a Wife’s Plea for a Vaccine: Cheryl Youngblood, 61, Bakersfield

 Cheryl Youngbloood's husband, Michael Youngblood, poses with their daughter, Amy, at her wedding in May 1999. He died before he could walk his baby girl, Stacie, down the aisle.
Cheryl Youngbloood's husband, Michael Youngblood, poses with their daughter, Amy, at her wedding in May 1999. He died before he could walk his baby girl, Stacie, down the aisle.

My husband Michael Youngblood was diagnosed with valley fever in 1997. He was off work for several months, taking both the maximum dosage of Diflucan, as well as amphotericin B through IVs three times a week. He got better and was able to return to work.

But in February of 1999, he woke up vomiting and with a severe headache. He was diagnosed with cocci meningitis, which meant the valley fever had disseminated into his brain. They had to inject the anti-fungal medications directly into the back of his neck, at first once a month, then once a week. He had more small strokes and other physical and mental issues.

On January 9, 2001, my big, strong healthy husband of 30 years died at age 49, a 144-pound shell of his former self. He left behind four children and two grandchildren. It was just three months shy of our 30thwedding anniversary.

He was able to walk our first daughter, Jennifer, down the aisle as a healthy dad. He walked our second daughter, Amy, down the aisle as a sick dad. But he was not around to walk his baby girl, Stacie, down the aisle. That was his biggest regret. While we were dancing together at Amy's wedding, his eyes filled with tears as he told me he knew he wouldn't be there for Stacie's wedding.

What makes his story especially poignant is that he was a volunteer for the valley fever vaccine trials of the early 1980s. He actually received the vaccine they were testing at that time. Had it been effective, he would be with us still today, enjoying our expanded family of eight grandchildren. He would have been here for Stacie's and our son Steven's wedding, for the college graduations and all the holidays when his presence is missed. This is why the vaccine trials need to continue, so that no more families have to suffer losses like ours and so many others.

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The 2017 California Fellowship, for California-based journalists only, will be held March 5-9, 2017 in Los Angeles. This Fellowship will focus on vulnerable populations and access to care and health care reform and innovation. We also take an in-depth look at how community conditions influence individuals' prospects for health. Each Fellow receives a $1,000 stipend to assist with the costs of reporting an ambitious Fellowship project on a California health issue, as well as six months of mentoring by a Senior Fellow. Deadline to apply is Dec. 1. For more information, go here.

Our health care system commits tremendous resources to extending life but comparatively little to end-of-life planning and care that honors patients’ wishes. This webinar will give an overview of the problem, identify changes to our health care system that might help, and offer insights on how journalists might spur more conversations on how we approach death in America. Find info and register here.

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