It was a simple morning jog. And then, it wasn’t.
It’s been four short years since tragedy struck the Olson family of St. Michael. Michaela, 16, was on a jog one warm July morning when she struggled to breathe, and ultimately collapsed.
Emergency workers attempted to save her, and were able to transport her to a hospital. But it was too late. She died July 1, 2012.
Her parents are determined to keep Michaela’s memory alive. A bench has been placed along the path she jogged, just a few steps from Gutzwiller Park. Her family has spoken publicly, candidly, about the misdiagnosis and information that was given as she was treated for some breathing ailments prior to her death. And they’ve strived to give more people awareness about histoplasmosis, the extremely rare reaction to mold that actually took Michaela’s life.
All while remembering the girl whose dream it was to play soccer, and who had a smile that could light up an entire neighborhood.
According to the Mayo Clinic, histoplasmosis is an infection caused by breathing in spores of a fungus often found in bird and bat droppings. Histoplasmosis is most commonly transmitted when these spores become airborne, often during cleanup or demolition projects.
It’s often misdiagnosed, with doctors thinking asthma or a vocal cord disfunction, such as the two diagnoses given to the Olson family, is the cause.
Soil contaminated by bird or bat droppings also can transmit histoplasmosis, so farmers and landscapers are at a higher risk of the disease. In the United States, histoplasmosis most commonly occurs in the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys.
A landscaping project in the neighborhood may have contributed to Michaela’s infection.
Michaela, who tried out for soccer at 14, was diagnosed with asthma after she had trouble playing. But her problems continued, so doctors thought she had a vocal chord dysfunction, after an asthma specialist determined she didn’t have the airway disorder.
Doctors, unfortunately, missed their mark, the Olson family said. An autopsy would later prove it was neither of those things.
The family is taking donations, as it has for the past three years, via WeLoveMichaela.com. Money is set aside to assist with the formation of a scholarship for any young person in the STMA community who wants to go on a mission trip. Funds are also used to help the Olson family is it helps raise awareness about histoplasmosis.