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.
By Yesenia Amaro
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.
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