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Beloved San Diego State professor dies of Legionella pneumonia

Beloved San Diego State professor dies of Legionella pneumonia
Posted at 4:26 PM, Mar 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-08 20:21:59-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Loved ones are mourning the loss of a beloved, longtime San Diego State University professor, who died of Legionella pneumonia this past weekend.

Michael Buono, 67, first became sick in early February.

“He had chills, fever, and then non-stop hiccups,” said his wife, Shelly Buono,

Shelly says he got an online prescription for the flu but didn't get better. Several days later, he ended up in the ER with shortness of breath. Tests revealed a startling diagnosis.

“He actually did have the flu—and Legionella,” said Shelly.

Buono, who had no underlying conditions, had developed Legionella pneumonia and was intubated.

According to the CDC, the Legionella bacteria can be contracted by breathing in water droplets from a source like air conditioning. For weeks, loved ones kept vigil at the hospital.

“You would see something improve, but then something else was a problem,” said Shelly.

Buono passed away from complications of the disease on Saturday.

“Heartbreak. You lose your best friend of 40 years. It's tough,” said a tearful Shelly.

Shelly says her creative, energetic husband—a popular physiology professor at SDSU for 4 decades—was known for mentoring students and ‘really caring’ about their learning,

School officials have closed the buildings he worked in to conduct testing for the Legionella bacteria.

“It is a rare thing, and you’d never wish it on anyone,” said Shelly.

When Buono was first hospitalized, his department chair painted a rock. Shelly then decided to start a rock garden in front of her home. Since then, it's expanded with neighbors, friends, and students adding their own messages of comfort and hope.

“When I see it, I smile. I think of what a wonderful person he was and how much he would enjoy seeing it,” said Shelly.

Shelly says they plan to set up a scholarship in her husband’s name.

Meanwhile, testing at the school is expected to be complete next week. So far, the school says there have been no additional cases of Legionella pneumonia.