(CNN) — The death of ESPN reporter Edward Aschoff on his 34th birthday was puzzling to many: How could pneumonia kill a young person who had been in good health?
Now his fiancée has revealed that, though he did not know it, Aschoff had stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma in his lungs.
Aschoff died on December 24 with a diagnosis of pneumonia and a rare disease known as hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH). He had first gone to the emergency room three weeks earlier for flu-like symptoms and tweeted on Dec. 4 about having pneumonia.
In announcing the findings of a post-mortem lung biopsy, fiancee Katy Berteau said Wednesday: “He would have wanted everyone to know that something way bigger than pneumonia took him down.”
“Both pneumonia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma can trigger HLH in the body, and that is seemingly what happened with Edward,” she said. “All of this combined is what led to his very rapid decline those last few days, and ultimately his passing.”
HLH is a rare disorder that affects the immune system, making certain white blood cells attack other blood cells and enlarging the spleen and liver, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
About a quarter of cases are passed down through families, and the rest come from infections, a weakened immune system or cancer.
Berteau described Aschoff’s lymphoma as “an aggressive type of cancer that is usually undetectable until it is very advanced.”
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer that forms in the lymph system, which is part of the immune system that helps the body fight infection and disease, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Aschoff himself had expressed surprise about the severity of his illness. He first started feeling flu-like symptoms while covering the Ohio State-Michigan game on Nov. 30, and two days later he went to the emergency room.
On December 5, a few days after his pneumonia diagnosis, he tweeted: “Anyone ever had multifocal (bilateral) pneumonia in their early 30s as someone who never gets sick and has a very good immune system? Asking for two friends … my lungs.”
Antibiotics did not work and he got worse. Doctors began treating him for a presumed diagnosis of HLH. He died three days after being moved to intensive care.
Aschoff, a college football reporter, began working for ESPN in 2011. He moved to Los Angeles in 2017 to begin a more expanded national role that included television coverage.
He and Berteau were to be married in April.
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