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Animal Planet highlights Northeast Wisconsin blastomycosis case

Tom Horan on December 18, 2017 (WLUK/Mike Moon)

APPLETON, Wis. (WLUK) -- An Appleton man has gained national attention thanks to a near-death experience.

In 2015 a fungal infection nearly killed him. Now he's a subject of the Animal Planet show 'Monsters Inside Me.'

When Tom Horan came down with pneumonia after tubing on the Little Wolf River in 2015, he wasn't very concerned.

"At first, not too much. I just thought it was, like, regular pneumonia, but then once it started progressing to the point where I was in the hospital, that's when I started to worry," he told FOX 11 News.

After several weeks of typical treatments, the pneumonia only got worse and Horan was close to dying. That's when he was referred to ThedaCare and Dr. David Brooks.

Brooks discovered Horan had the fungal infection blastomycosis.

"I was shocked. I didn't even know something like this existed," Horan told us.

That summer in Wisconsin more than 100 people were diagnosed with blasto. Eleven died. About half of the cases were people who'd been on the Little Wolf River.

"We had, kind of, been aware that there was a problem. So it wasn't necessarily unexpected when he showed up with the severe pneumonia," explained Brooks, an infectious disease specialist.

Horan was in the hospital 18 days total, his treatment and recovery lasted a year.

Animal Planet caught wind of his story from a GoFundMe account his brother's friend made.

"So they reached out to my brother's friend and he reached out to my brother and me and that's how we got in contact," Horan told FOX 11.

The network put his story on the show 'Monsters Inside Me' about a week ago.

"I thought that was crazy. I've never had the opportunity to be on national television before!" Horan exclaimed.

"I thought they did a very nice job," added Brooks, who was also on the show.

Brooks and Horan told us they're happy this is bringing attention to blastomycosis.

"I think it's an unrecognized infection in Wisconsin, despite it being very common," said Brooks.

"It's very easy for it to be misdiagnosed," added Horan.

Brooks told FOX 11 the lesson here is that patients need to speak up when something isn't right.

"Keep seeking attention, you know, when things don't seem to be getting better. Don't be afraid to ask for specialty care," he advised.

Horan told us he's grateful he did and met Dr. Brooks.

"Very grateful. He basically saved my life," he said.

Horan says a friend who also went tubing developed a more mild case of the infection.

Horan's episode of 'Monsters Inside Me' is scheduled to run again this Thursday on Animal Planet.

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