BUFFALO, NY - A local Olympic bronze medalist is in a Buffalo hospital, fighting for his life.
The family of Darren Chiacchia, 48, says he was diagnosed about 10 days ago with a rare and potentially deadly form of fungal meningitis.
Chiacchia went from equestrian star, to scandal and now, according to a family spokesperson into serious condition at Buffalo General Hospital.
Chiacchia is receiving treatment for an infection, which attacks the body's spinal fluid, brain and skull. Chiacchia also has a viral staph infection that he got in the hospital. Experts say the virus is commonly contracted during care for the infection. No one from the Chiacchia family agreed to go on-camera with 2 On Your Side for an interview. However, we did hear from Chiacchia's press agent.
"He had competed in an event two weeks ago and he was having such severe headaches there that just the weight of his safety helmet was causing him agony," said Hallie McEvoy, family spokesperson.
So, the Olympian from Springville came back home to get treatment. According to family, Chiacchia has a high fever and a stiff neck and feels nauseous. They also say it's unclear how he was infected. His family says that Chiacchia is not part of the nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis. This widespread infection has been a result of tainted steroid pain injections that's commonly put into a person's back. McEvoy says that she's not aware of anyone injecting Chiacchia with any type of steroid. So there's a chance he may have contracted the infection from farm work, because the fungi can be found in soil samples. Experts say that the infection is tough to fight.
"Even if I kill the fungal species you get continuation of that inflammatory reaction and you can interrupt the normal processes of the brain even if you can kill all the organisms," said Dr. Alan Lesse of UB/MD Internal Medicine.
Family and friends are posting on Chiacchia's Facebook page saying he'll be in their prayers and that they're hoping Chiacchia can pull through this part of his life like he did other challenges. He miraculously recovered from a traumatic brain injury in 2008 when he fell from his horse in competition. In 2010, Chiacchia faced sex charges for allegedly not telling his partner that he was HIV positive, the charges were later dropped.
Chiacchia denies ever being HIV or AIDS positive.
The family is very concerned that the intense treatment Chiacchia is receiving could cause him to experience long-term kidney and liver damage.
In addition to an Olympic bronze in 2004, Chiacchia won a gold medal in the Pan American Games in 2003.
State health officials say that there's been no cases reported of fungal meningitis caused by injection in the state.