Skip to main content.

Just One Breath: Public Health Champion Felled by Diabetes and Valley Fever

Fellowship Story Showcase

Just One Breath: Public Health Champion Felled by Diabetes and Valley Fever

Jeff Jue, a Central California mental health executive, hoped to enjoy his retirement by traveling. But his life was cut short by a deadly combination of diabetes and the valley fever he contracted during a retirement trip to South America. This story is part of the ReportingonHealth Collaborative's "Just One Breath" investigative series on valley fever in California's Central Valley.

Friday, October 12, 2012

By Yesenia Amaro
ReportingonHealth Collaborative

The last time Linda Jue saw her husband alive, he was in the intensive care unit in a lot of pain.

Right before doctors gave him painkillers, Jeff Jue gave her two thumbs up and smiled.

The former Merced County mental health director was fighting for his life at the time. Doctors at Memorial Medical Center in Modesto were treating him for valley fever.

Jue was starting to enjoy his retirement when it was suddenly cut short by the fungal disease.

“He had only been retired for three years,” said Linda Jue, who lives in Modesto.

Jue, well known in California for his work in mental health and social services, died days after giving her the thumbs up in 2005. He was 62.

Jue had served as the mental health director in Merced for most of the 1980s. He later served as the mental health director in Sonoma and San Francisco counties. In 1995, he became the director of the Stanislaus County Community Services Agency.

Jue also taught at UC Berkeley and California State University, Stanislaus. He was considered a leader in social services by those familiar with his work.

Larry Poaster knew Jue for more than 40 years. In the early 1980s, Poaster was the director of the Mental Heath Department in Stanislaus County. Jue worked under him as the chief of outpatient services, and Poaster followed Jue’s career after he left.

 “He was a leader everywhere he went,” Poaster said.

For example, while working in Merced, Jue successfully reorganized the health department and “left a lasting impression both on staff and people in Merced County who utilized those services,” Poaster said.

File Photo of Jeff Jue 3/23/2000 Credit: The Modesto Bee / Jeff Jue served as the director for the Mental Health Department in Merced, Sonoma, and San Francisco counties. He was considered a leader in social services by those familiar with his work before dying of valley fever at the age of 62 in 2005.

Poaster lived across the street from Jue when he came down with valley fever and said it was heartbreaking to see him sick.

“It’s just like he didn’t have a chance,” he said.

 Linda Jue said she was glad her husband was able to accomplish everything he wanted in his career before he retired in 2002.

“He was spending retirement having fun,” she said.

In fact, he believed it was during one of his retirement trips that he became infected with valley fever, his wife said.

Valley fever is caused by a fungus found in the soil primarily in certain parts of the southwestern United States, Mexico and Central and South America. Jue had gone on a trip to Brazil and made a stop at Machu Picchu, Peru.

When Jue returned home from Peru, he had a cough that he thought was from a simple cold. But the condition only worsened.

He was initially diagnosed with pneumonia, but after being hospitalized at Memorial Medical Center in Modesto for about a week, doctors found out he had valley fever, his wife said.

His case was complicated by his diabetes. Doctors had to decrease the amount of antifungal drugs because the medicine was hard on his liver, already weakened by diabetes. Then valley fever attacked his lungs more aggressively.

Linda Jue said she just kept hoping that the doctors would find a treatment that would save his life.

He was eventually placed in the intensive care unit, where he would remain for four weeks. He was medically induced into a coma so that doctors could better treat his valley fever, his wife said.

“He never came out of a coma,” his wife said. “It just got worse and worse, and his lungs couldn’t take it anymore.”

Poaster said the work Jue did on behalf of low-income families, people with mental health challenges and disabilities and others who depend on county health services has had a profound effect on the communities where he worked.

“He was a tremendous advocate of people who had needs, and his passing away shook everybody who knew him from all around the state,” Poaster said. “He’s still missed to this day.”

Photo Credit: The Modesto Bee

About This Series

This project results from an innovative reporting venture – the Center for Health Journalism Collaborative – which currently involves the Bakersfield Californian, Radio Bilingüe in Fresno, Valley Public Radio in Fresno and Bakersfield, Vida en el Valle in Fresno, Hanford Sentinel, the Voice of OC in Santa Ana, the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, La Estrella de Tucsón and the Center for Health Journalism. The collaborative is an initiative of the Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.


California prisons reduce risk of valley fever for inmates

Richard Nuwintore's sentence in the California prison system has ended, but the valley fever infection he picked up while doing time is a life sentence. The state is now working to lower the risk for inmates.

Federal funding fuels new valley fever research

The National Institutes of Health is now providing critical support to multiple studies on valley fever. Such research could yield critical new breakthroughs in our understanding of the long-overlooked disease.

Accurate valley fever counts elude health officials

“Valley fever is almost certainly underreported, due to physicians and the public not being familiar with the disease,” said one infectious disease specialist. Reliable estimates of valley fever cases are still lacking.

CDC technology advances promise better valley fever detection

New sensors in development at the CDC could provide a breakthrough in valley fever detection and prevention throughout the Southwestern United States.

New valley fever skin test shows promise, but obstacles remain

A new skin test called Spherusol can detect whether a person has developed immunity to valley fever. But despite its promise, the test still isn’t in wide use.

FORECASTING AN EPIDEMIC: Does weather hold the key to predicting valley fever outbreaks?

As recently as August, Calif. health officials predicted the number of valley fever cases this year would go down. Now it’s shaping up to be one of the worst years on record.

Public pushes for new thinking in valley fever research

Advocates of valley fever research have complained that the disease does not affect enough people to garner attention and funding; local doctors often misdiagnosed it; most data about the disease dates back decades; and the public has little knowledge of the disease and its impact.

Valley Fever Research Day Aims To Connect With Community

Community members are invited to attend Valley Fever Research Day Saturday at the UCSF Fresno Center for Medical Education and Research. The event is an opportunity for researchers to connect with community members who have been impacted by the fungal disease.