Husband who was told he might have months to live due to a condition caused by mould that grew in his lungs is still alive two years later thanks to a last-ditch drug and ‘miracle’ recovery
- EXCLUSIVE: Janine, 33, and Stewart Armstrong, of Kent, wed in Sept 2018
- Stewart, 40, diagnosed with chronic pulmonary aspergillosis in March 2015
- Condition took turn for the worst in 2018 where doctors gave him 3 years to live
- Married after told he only had a 50:50 chance of surviving the rest of the year
- Made miraculous recovery thanks to last ditch drug – leaving doctors stunned
- Is now isolating during pandemic as considered very vulnerable to coronavirus
A man who was told he might just have months to live due to a lung condition caused by mould has revealed how he is still alive two years later thanks to a last-ditch attempt drug and a ‘miraculous’ recovery.
When Janine and Stewart Armstrong, of Ramsgate, Kent, made their vows to love each other in sickness and in health, they weren’t expecting long together as husband and wife.
Just weeks before their 2018 nuptials, doctors warned Stuart, 40, that his chronic lung condition had taken a turn for the worse.
But a last-ditch medication called Posaconazole helped him make an unexpected recovery – which left doctors stunned.
When Janine and Stewart Armstrong, of Ramsgate, Kent, pictured, made their vows to love each other in sickness and in health, they weren’t expecting long together as husband and wife
Stewart told FEMAIL: ‘When I was diagnosed in 2015, my first goal was to live long enough to watch the new Star Wars film which was out at the end of that year!
‘Now Janine and I are making plans for 10, 15, 20 years into the future – there was a time when we never thought that would be possible. I’ve gone from having check-ups weekly to six monthly.’
Janine, 33, and Stewart met in 2010 when they worked together – and a few months later, he began to feel breathless and was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, an auto-immune problem.
‘He was otherwise a healthy man with bags of energy and enthusiasm, who went on to start his own business,’ Janine recalled.
Janine, 33, and Stewart met in 2010 when they worked together – and a few months later, he began to feel breathless and was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, an auto-immune problem
‘However, as time went by, he became more short of breath, and started getting pains in his chest. Eventually he began coughing up blood.
‘Finally, in March 2015, he was diagnosed with chronic pulmonary aspergillosis – neither of us had ever even heard of it before.’
The condition is caused by inhaling tiny bits of mould. In Stewart’s case, these then grew in cavities in his lungs caused by his existing lung problem.
Stewart recalled: ‘By the time I was diagnosed I was so poorly; I was breathless after walking up one flight of stairs, felt constantly tired and couldn’t work full-time.
The couple, pictured, who run an events company together, had always intended to marry one day – they’d just never got around to it
‘Once doctors understood the problem, my symptoms were kept stable by a daily cocktail of medication. But even so, Janine had to quit her job to help me run the business.’
The couple, who run an events company together, had always intended to marry one day – they’d just never got around to it.
But in 2018, Stewart’s health suddenly worsened dramatically. He became so poorly he could walk only a few steps at a time, was coughing up blood and and his oxygen saturation levels were in the seventies – in healthy adults these should be around 100 per cent – meaning he needed an oxygen mask most of the time.
‘We were told he had only a 50 per cent of living to the end of the year and his life expectancy might be three years. It was an awful shock and very scary,’ Janine said.
Janine and Stewart, pictured before his diagnosis, decided to make a last minute plan to get married when his health took a turn for the worst
A scan of Stewart’s lungs (pictured) show the damage caused by the rare condition aspergilllosis
‘Tests revealed that Stewart’s existing medication had stopped working. Doctors said there had been a rapid decline in his lung function.
‘Soon afterwards he was in bed at home, very unwell, when he proposed and I accepted. But he told me, “I don’t want to walk down the aisle in an oxygen mask”.
‘We knew if we wanted to marry, we should do it very soon. So we found a venue who squeezed us in for a ceremony, in six weeks’ time. I bought a dress online and we organised the ceremony in a huge rush.
‘It was all very intense. At the time, things weren’t looking good. We thought time was running out for us, and that if we had to wait, Stewart mightn’t make it.’
The couple married on September 20, 2018. They had a small wedding with half a dozen guests, followed by a honeymoon in Scotland.
The couple married on September 20, 2018. They had a small wedding with half a dozen guests, followed by a honeymoon in Scotland
But after their ceremony, last-ditch medical treatment brought about a recovery that left medics stunned.
Doctors began treating Stewart with the sole remaining drug in their armoury – Posaconazole, prescribed to prevent fungal infections in patients with weak immune systems.
Stewart said: ‘Thankfully, that last-chance medication worked for me. My symptoms began to improve.
‘When I saw the respiratory nurse, she told me the only word she could think of to describe the transformation was miraculous.
‘But I wasn’t out of the woods – I still had only a 50 per cent chance of surviving three to five years.’
Doctors started treating Stewart with the sole remaining drug in their armoury – Posaconazole, prescribed to prevent fungal infections in patients with weak immune systems – and his condition began to improve. Pictured in hospital
While Stewart worked hard at the gym to improve his strength and stamina, and wean himself off oxygen, the couple also spent £2,000 on air filters for their home.
Janine explained: ‘We became extremely careful about Stewart’s health, avoiding germs and any activities or locations that may expose him to mould or dust.
‘If we were out anywhere and someone began coughing, we left. He no longer shook hands with anyone.
‘I used essential oils around the house as they’re supposed to get rid of fungal spores. We also started eating organic food to boost Stewart’s health as much as possible.
‘He joked that I’d become like a sniffer dog – my nose became so sensitive to the smell of mould, if we were out and I got a whiff of it, I would literally usher him from the room!’
While Stewart worked hard at the gym to improve his strength and stamina, and wean himself off oxygen, the couple also spent £2,000 on air filters for their home. Pictured on a walk
Today, five years on from his initial diagnosis and two years on from the health crisis that led them to marry, Stewart’s medication is still working and he’s feeling well.
His fitness has improved so much that before the Covid-19 lockdown, the couple enjoyed regular five mile walks together.
What is aspergillosis and who is most at risk?
Aspergillosis is a condition usually caused by inhaling tiny bits of mould. The mould triggering the illnesses, called aspergillus, is found everywhere — indoors and outdoors.
Most people are unaffected by the mould and don’t get ill from breathing it in. But people with existing lung conditions or weakened immune systems (including people who’ve had organ transplants of chemotherapy) are at risk.
In some patients, the spores trigger allergic reactions. Others develop mild to serious lung infections. The most serious form of aspergillosis — invasive aspergillosis — occurs when the infection spreads to blood vessels and beyond.
Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, wheezing, or coughing up blood.
Medication cannot eradicate the fungus, but can slow down the progression and keep symptoms at bay.
Depending on the type of Aspergillosis, treatment may involve observation, steroids and antifungal medications or, in rare cases, surgery.
For help and support visit the Aspergillosis Trust at aspergillosistrust.org
They put that down to the excellent NHS medical care he receives at the National Aspergillosis Centre at Manchester Hospital, and his local hospital Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital at Margate.
Stewart is among the millions of Britons currently told to stay ‘shielded’ indoors for 12 weeks during the coronavirus lockdown.
Janine said: ‘Stewart has regular X-rays, which always show that his lungs are in bad shape. That’s to be expected, as aspergillosis can’t be cured. Yet apart from that, his oxygen readings are in the nineties – something that was impossible when he was at his worst – and he feels well.
‘That means the two of us can think about living and enjoying life, rather than fearing approaching death.’
However, Stewart must constantly make adjustments to his life to maintain this period of good health – and shutting himself away from the world during lockdown has had a detrimental effect.
‘Once I began shielding, I went from doing at 15,000 steps a day to around 200 steps a day,’ he said.
‘That had a knock-on effect on my lungs. I noticed myself becoming increasingly breathless. I had to return to exercise, for the sake of my health.
‘So now I get up at 5am to go for a long walk when the streets are empty, and maximise the health of my lungs while having minimal contact with others.’
The couple want to raise awareness of aspergillosis because many strangers, hearing that it’s a fungal infection, mistakenly dismiss it as a minor ailment like a nail infection.
Stewart explained: ‘If I had cancer, people would know how to react, but there’s no road map for this life-threatening illness. For me, that’s frustrating.
‘Before getting ill, I managed six sales and marketing departments in London. I was always solving problems. Now this is a problem I can’t solve.
Stewart, pictured with Janine, is among the millions of Britons currently told to stay ‘shielded’ indoors for 12 weeks during the coronavirus lockdown due to his underlying health conditions
‘Reading up about aspergilllosis and understanding the disease is one way I can get some control back.
‘When I was diagnosed I just wanted to find someone who had survived, so I hope my story can help others. It can be very lonely and scary when you’re diagnosed with a disease that’s so unusual.’
Stewart is happy to help others diagnosed with aspergillosis – you can contact him via email at [email protected]
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