Allergy vs. Toxic Exposure

People often assume that a reaction to toxic mold is an allergic one. The following is designed to clarify this confusion. The article can be found on the website MCS America.

Q: What is the difference between a chemical allergy and a chemical toxicity?

A: An allergy produces hay fever-like symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, itching, nasal stuffiness, watering eyes, wheezing, and coughing. Allergy symptoms, while difficult, are generally regarded as different degrees of a nuisance. The symptoms are usually easily observable by a physician and therefore are easily accepted and diagnosed. Diagnosis can be confirmed with typical allergy tests for elevated immunoglobulin E (IgE).

The symptoms of chemical toxicity are typically neurological and include headache, extreme fatigue, dizziness, weakness, nausea, disorientation, memory problems, slowed reaction time, peripheral neuropathy, sensory neuropathy, and personality/mood changes. Other symptoms may include respiratory difficulty, rash, burning sensations in the nose and mouth, and gastrointestinal disorders. Serious toxicity may result in impaired speech, seizures, stroke, and paralysis.

Chemical toxicity is not regarded as a nuisance, but rather a major life-altering crisis. Victims of toxicity will take extreme measures to avoid further exposure to substances which add to their toxic load and produce a multitude of symptoms as a result of toxicity-induced cellular inflammation, nutritional deficiencies, malabsorption, and impaired detoxification.

The symptoms of toxicity are not easily observable by a physician and often seem vague and subjective as reported by the patient. The extreme measures taken to avoid further exposure often seem out of proportion to the person’s otherwise normal appearance and may lead to an incorrect conclusion that the person is psychotic, paranoid, or anxious.

Diagnosis is initially difficult unless the patient was poisoned on the job or has had a sudden acute exposure to a known toxic substance. Patients suffering from chronic low-level exposure to a toxic substance may not even be aware of the substance that has made them ill. Instead they may report illness when in a certain building or exposed to certain chemicals.

Typically chronic low-level poisoning cases include chronic environmental pesticide, mold, or formaldehyde exposure in the home or workplace. Typical allergy treatments such as antihistamines and provocative neutralization don’t reduce the symptoms of toxicity. In fact, since the body is already toxic, antihistamines and other drugs often add to body burden and make the symptoms worse. Through identifying and ceasing the source of exposure and treating the physical damage caused by the toxicant, symptoms from toxicity can be reduced and/or eliminated. A physician specializing in this area is recommended.

New Year Perspective

As the Christmas decorations are tucked away, and the glitter gives way to a New Year...

Earthly sorrows often take center stage. It may be the loss of a loved one, betrayal by a friend, chronic illness, financial strain, or simply a sense of emptiness or longing.

I've thought a great deal about the book of Job this year. And found great consolation in the following passage from the book The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Here, the kind and patient monk, Father Zossima, reflects on the story of Job and his own waning moments on Earth.

... I've never been able to read that sacred tale without tears. And how much that is great, mysterious, and unfathomable there is in it! The words of mockery and blame, proud words, "How could God give up the most loved of his saints for the diversion of the devil, take from him his children, smite him with sore boils so that he cleansed the corruptions from his sores with a potsherd - and for no object except to boast to the devil! 'See how much My saint can suffer for My sake!'”

But the greatness of it all lies just in the fact that it is a mystery—that the passing earthly show and the eternal verity are brought together in it. In the face of earthly truth, the eternal truth is accomplished.

The Creator, just as on the first days of creation ended each day with praise: "that is good that I have created," looks upon Job and again praises His creation. And Job praising the Lord, serves not only Him but all His creation for generations and generations, and for ever and ever, since for that he was ordained.

Good heavens, what a book it is, and lessons there are in it!

What a book the Bible is! What a miracle and what strength is given with it to man! It is just like a sculpture of the whole world and all its human characters, with everything named there and everything shown for ever and ever.

And what mysteries are solved and revealed; God raises Job again, gives him wealth again. Many years pass by, and he has other children and loves them. But how could he love those new ones when his old children are no more, when he has lost them? Remembering them, how could he be completely happy with the new ones, however dear the new ones might be? But he could, he could! It's the great mystery of human life that old grief passes gradually into quiet tender joy. The mild serenity of age takes the place of the riotous blood of youth.

I bless the rising sun each day, and, as before, my heart sings to meet it, but now I love even more its setting, its long slanting rays and the soft tender gentle memories that come with them, the dear images from the whole of my long happy life - and over all the Divine Truth, softening, reconciling, forgiving! My life is ending, I know that well, but every day that is left me I feel how my earthly life is in touch with a new infinite, unknown, but approaching life, the nearness of which sets my soul quivering with rapture, my mind glowing, and my heart weeping with joy.

The Day the War Stopped

On Christmas Day, 1914, World War I came to a halt. German soldiers placed candles on trees and sang Christmas carols, most notably Stille Nacht. British troops responded by singing English carols.

The unofficial truce fulfilled the wishes of Pope Benedict XV, "that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang."

It felt like a cease-fire at our house Christmas Day. It's not what I expected. Two days earlier Kaitlyn fell while hiking and broke her collarbone. An "8-week-recovery" break.

I felt overwhelmed for her pain, her setback, and the financial implications.

Christmas Eve I silently cried myself to sleep. Kaitlyn's injury brought other grief to the surface.

My first Christmas without my mom, remaining physical challenges, an uncertain financial future.

I awoke with a renewed sense of peace. Maybe it was the excitement of the kids. The fortitude of my husband. Or the sound of The Muppet Christmas Carol playing in the living room.

Our breakfast was simple. We took no chances and didn't stray too far from our diet. We did add eggs. Something we haven't had for 5 months. I made pancakes with coconut flour and flax.

We juiced mango and pineapple for a treat.

We spent 3 hours opening gifts. And the cease-fire began. Nothing but laughter and singing. Excitement as the kids gave gifts to each other.

And not a thought about health or symptoms. Heavy exposure to toxic mold results in an internal war. The evil mycotoxins absorb into the body, circulate through the bloodstream, and affect our body systematically. Recovery, especially for those of us with the 4353 genotype, means a long, hard battle. A battle requiring constant strategizing and vigilance.

We didn't talk about the war once.

Better yet, we made it all the way to dinner without one fight! Even then it was only a minor skirmish.

"This is our best Christmas ever!" I heard time and time again. It's the good that comes from loss. Expectations diminish.

Tomorrow the battle will resume. Our informal armistice will be over.

But I'll always treasure Christmas Day 2009. I'm just sure I heard angels singing.

Nativity by John Donne

Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,

Now leaves His well-belov'd imprisonment,

There He hath made Himself to His intent

Weak enough, now into the world to come;

But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?

Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,

Stars and wise men will travel to prevent

The effect of Herod's jealous general doom.

Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith's eyes, how He

Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?

Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,

That would have need to be pitied by thee?

Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,

With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.

A Single Mother's Plight

I have one last story to share before Christmas that will tug at your heart. This is a single mother with two children living in public housing. Her story illustrates the need for political awareness in the area of toxic mold. She saw our story on CBN.

"It was like someone was telling my story. I almost dropped to the floor. I thought only I am going through this and it must be in my head.

I've been noticing things that have been happening to my children and I for many years. First it was the coughing, lack of balance, and shortness of breath. Then it was headaches, lightheadedness, achy limbs, sensitivity to salt, and sugar, severe stomach aches. Then, my kids kept getting infections, flu like symptoms, and gastral problems. My kids and I have taken pain relievers for the headaches, antacid for the stomachs, and a change in our diet to what we can tolerate.

My kids complain about different symptoms on a daily basis. We have been to every doctor you can think of for each symptom with no help. I knew something in this house was what was making us sick. People thought I was crazy and stressed out. I have complained to the landlord numerous times with really no success. I am a single mom and I want the best for my kids. They go to a great school and live in a great neighborhood. I live in public housing and I fought to be placed in a decent neighborhood with high standard schools.

I have been going through illness after illness for many years. Then the bomb dropped. I was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma stage three. During that time I was severely ill. I could barely breathe, I ached, and had other symptoms. My tumors were in every area that I complained about for many years. The burning throat and chest discomfort and the gastral problems.

I know whatever is in this house played a part in this but I just can not prove it.

My kids' health has gone downhill. My oldest daughter was very healthy when we moved into this house eight years ago. She has had numerous symptoms but the most severe have been bad headaches, dizziness, severe fatigue, sensitivity to salt, heat especially if it is humid, and fainting. She has been diagnosed with asthma especially when she is active.

My younger daughter always complains about her stomach. I see signs of depression, lack of energy. We all are very very tired. Sometimes we wake up tired, like we never went to sleep. Sometimes it is hard for my kids to go to sleep because we ache so bad. Two days ago we all went to the store to shop. I had intentions of going to several stores. I ignored my daughter when she said she did not want to go because she was too tired. I ignored her because I thought it was teenage laziness.

My kids still go to school but they struggle with learning because of their unexplained symptoms. Sometimes I feel like a bad mother because I do not know how to fix it. Sometimes we cry together because we all feel so hopeless. I can not wait until the day I see my eight year old and my twelve year old back to their old selves again.

I know there is mold in this house and I really do not have the finances to do anything about it. I finally convinced the health department to come out to see. I do not know what good that is going to do. I just want you to know I appreciate you speaking out because now I do not feel so alone. When I do find out what it is, and if it is mold, I want to do something about this to make sure no other family goes through this."

Perfect Match

When Chris and I were househunting for our very first home in 1988, our realtor exhorted us to stop looking for the "perfect house." I was taken aback as I was only commenting on the size of the master closet. Still, Chris and I took the advice to heart.

"If you're looking for the perfect car," Chris will quip in the middle of car shopping. "If you're looking for the perfect computer," I'll joke while he agonizes over an electronics decision.

Today is our 27th wedding anniversary. We exchanged cards this morning. Each card contained the words "perfect match."

Perfection is different for me now. It's not a house with a big closet. Or a marriage without conflict.

It's love in the midst of sorrow. Patience in the midst of trial.

Determination despite despair.

We didn't find the perfect house in 1988. We sure didn't when we moved to Colorado in 2000.

But love is bigger than whatever we face. Conflict. Mold. Illness.

And God is the one who brings two young, naive souls together and keeps them together despite overwhelming odds.

Demonstrating that two imperfect people can, with time and
adversity, become the perfect match.

Bike Swap

I stole a bike recently from a friendly neighborhood department store. I didn’t mean to. Honestly.

We bought a bike for Reagan in October. We paid extra for the replacement plan.

Within the first week Reagan came home with tire problems. Soon the rear brakes failed. It was time to utilize our replacement plan.

I took the bike to the store (a 40-minute drive), and learned that "replacement" might not be an accurate word for our plan. A phone number was mentioned, but it was clear: keep the bike.

I talked with the manager about the brakes, the tires, and our general dissatisfaction with the product. He agreed to have his bike guys fix the brake and take a look at the tire.

“The assembly department is in another building. I’ll walk it over, and we’ll call you when it’s ready. Should be about 20 minutes,” the manager assured me.

I completed my Saturday re-stocking mission and 45 minutes later went to inquire at customer service. I saw Reagan’s bike and decided to save the inquiry and head home. Confidently, I walked the bike to my car. Assuming the rear brake was fixed, I decided to stop at a bicycle repair shop and have them install Slime. (Slime is a tire sealant, in case you’re like me and never heard of it. Every bike rider in the desert uses it, evidently.)

As I headed into the shop I noticed a missing pedal. I took a deep breath, assumed it fell off during the repair, and purchased a new set of pedals. I sprang for the extra-durable tire along with the Slime. Thirty-five dollars later I came out with a new and better bike for my son.

Within a day the handlebars failed. Chris kept tightening them but they kept loosening whenever Reagan would ride in the desert. Within a week Reagan wasn’t riding his new bike.

Two weeks later, as we contemplated the future of the bike, I received a call on my cell phone. It was one of the bike assemblers letting me know, “Your bike is ready.”

In denial and disbelief and without hesitation I said, “Thank you.”

Now what? How do I explain? What do I do with our investment of the new tire? What about the boy who came back for his missing-pedal bike? I can't handle our next meal, let alone this dilemma. Our best option, I rationalized, was to retrieve Reagan’s bike, switch out the tires, and return the “stolen” bike.

Chris picked up Reagan's bike and we followed the plan. Our neighbor helped us with the tires.

Chris drew the “return the bike” straw this week. As he walked the bike toward customer service he prepared his speech. When he arrived, the customer service line wound all the way around to the junior department. He saw a line of bikes in the "return" area and parked it next to the others. He was not guilt-free in doing this, but he was glad he didn't have to stand in line.

I share this story for four reasons:

1. To encourage others to read the fine print on replacement plans. It's Christmas, after all.

2. To celebrate the fact that our son, while still struggling with vestibular issues, is riding a bike.

3. To remind others to inspect a bike carefully before walking away with it.

4. To note the wisdom of the quote by Billy Wilder that "hindsight is always twenty-twenty."

Whether a bike with a broken pedal, or a house with toxic mold, everything is much clearer in retrospect.

Toxicologist's Report on Damp Indoor Spaces

The following report is not for laypeople. It's scholarly and geared to fellow toxicologists and other professionals. It's worth reviewing, however, because if ever there was a question that there's more to mold than meets the eye, it's answered here.

This article, along with 15 others on the subject of damp indoor spaces, appeared in the October edition of Toxicology and Industrial Health. It's written by Dr. Jack Thrasher and he alluded to it in the interview I conducted with him in June. During the course of that interview he kept reminding me that when discussing mold, "you should also include the bacteria present in water damaged structures."

There are 9 types of biocontaminants resulting from water intrusion listed in the report. These include:

(1) molds
(2) bacteria
(3) microbial particulates
(4) mycotoxins
(5) volatile organic compounds (non-microbial[MVOCs] and microbial [VOCs])
(6) proteins (e.g. secreted enzymes, haemolysins and siderophores)
(7) galactomannans (extracellular polysaccharides or EPS)
(8) 1-3-D-b-glucans (glucans)
(9) endotoxins (lipopolysaccharides [LPS])

The article reviews these biocontaminants in detail and talks about the synergism that occurs between mold and bacteria. Something Dr. Thrasher described to me on October 4, 2008. The day we left our home. It was the first time I heard of something the dictionary describes this way:

"The interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions, etc." In other words, mold and bacteria work together to create something extremely harmful to individuals.

No wonder my tongue was black and I was forgetting simple things the day we walked away.

The article concludes with this powerful message,

"The medical profession worldwide should add to its basic curriculum detailed information on the health effects of the multi-biocontaminants present in water-damaged buildings. Diagnostic tests should be developed and recommended to determine the nature of building-related illness, e.g. allergy, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, encephalopathy, fungal infections, bacterial infection, etc.

Finally, the medical profession must recognize the importance of immediate removal of occupants from the toxic environment. Government agencies and medical universities need to increase research to continue to further solidify knowledge regarding health impacts that multi-biocontaminants have on human and animal occupants.

Preventing exposure to indoor biocontaminants is the most effective way for society to avoid the illnesses they cause. When exposure has already occurred, immediate removal of the occupant(s) from the contaminated environment is paramount and will minimize further damage to health.

Proper diagnoses will enable affected individuals to either remediate the contaminated structures, if possible, or locate other housing and/or work environments. Increased awareness of the potential health hazards of indoor biocontaminants is the first step in managing – and ultimately reducing – the illnesses they induce."

The full article can be reviewed here.


Since our story aired on Wednesday, I have heard from numerous people in similar situations. It does not cease to amaze me just how many of us find ourselves in this position. It remains unfathomable to me that our political and medical communities remain virtually unaware of the dangers of toxic mold. Here is one of the stories. (Used with permission.)

"I just watched your story on CBN. So familiar to us and what we are going through right now.

We started to suspect mold last fall. We left for a mini vacation and some of my symptoms let up drastically. We stayed with family in December when my symptoms were keeping me from getting out of bed. Again, my symptoms let up some. Everyone was telling me I was stressed or it was depression.

I was so angry that I went home and took a hammer to my walls. The plywood was wet and the window parts were rusted inside of the walls. We built our home in 2006 in Yorkville, IL. Our builder made so many mistakes, but the biggest mistake was that they didn't install our windows correctly.

We never found a lawyer to take it on, of course the insurance company didn't help, and we let the house go. As of December of this year it was purchased by someone. I can only imagine it was an investor who will patch it and resell it. I contacted the county, the state, and others, but the house was still put up for sale with no disclosures. As much as I researched, I just didn't find the right information in time. I was very out of sorts and had trouble thinking straight, so I'm going to blame it on that I guess.

Unfortunately, we never tested. My body and my children's health was deteriorating. This much we did know. The house sat for 9 months until the bank took it back. The last time I entered, I was extremely sick within minutes to say the least. The hardest part at this point almost a year later is that all I want is my children well again.

We have moved a couple times already this year and also had to get rid of both of our cars since the mold was so bad from being in our garage. The money is gone from just trying to replace simple things and some of the necessities.

I never thought we would be at this point, but it sure has opened our eyes to the important things in life.

My kids have improved in some ways which is a blessing. My oldest daughter used to throw up almost every night and also in the car. She was having hormone changes at age 6. My middle daughter has breathing problems now and reacts to something new almost every week. She had mold growing under her new mattress. She used to stop breathing while she was sleeping in our old house and hallucinate. At least it seemed that way to me. My son was born in that house. He has allergies now and sensitivities also. They are so young, I'm not always sure they understand if they are feeling bad or not.

My symptoms started 3 years ago now, I was told I have a demylinating disease. At that point, I still didn't know it was mold. After many tests they found that I have an optic nerve delay in both eyes, which of course is from my exposure. All our symptoms are. I started juicing, went on a gluten free diet, and made some other healthy changes. I was trying to help myself with my symptoms without the drugs the neurologist gave me.

Just the other night I was thinking about how this year has been an emotional roller coaster. I heard your husband describe the same feeling. God bless your family, it means so much to me to have met you. I wish it would have been in different circumstances, but this is where I've been brought in my life now. And I know it was for a reason."

Mold Story FAQs

Our story airs today on the 700 Club on CBN. The story can be viewed at this CBN link. Or at Chris' website, which includes a Christmas reflection on Home.

Our story often raises a number of questions. I thought it might be helpful to answer some of them.

What do you do all day?

My goal when we first relocated to Tucson was to establish a “recovery routine.” It took 10 months to do this. We had one obstacle after another. Now our week has structure, and even with everyday hindrances that come with the de-tox process, we have a semblance of a schedule.

Most of my day is now spent in the kitchen. If the dietary changes weren’t so helpful I would not invest this kind of time. Breakfast involves juicing a number of vegetables, supervising smoothie production, giving out supplements and herbs, and getting the younger kids ready for school.

Our tutor, provided by the school district, comes for three hours each weekday morning.

After school, the kids go running with our oldest daughter, Erin. They do relay races and drills along with lap running.

Lunch consists of stir-fried quinoa and brown rice with vegetables. Some days we have BLTs made with turkey bacon with lettuce substituted for bread.

The afternoon involves supervising free time for the kids, a trip to acupuncture, the park, or the grocery store. Often we stay home and do chores, read, rest, etc.

Dinner involves more vegetables, a big salad, chicken or soup, red meat occasionally, red potatoes, etc.

Evening is our “down” time. Two of the kids do the dishes and the rest of us play a game, watch a movie, or work on computers.

Weekends are my opportunity to escape for a while. Any type of errand alone has become a luxury.

Sunday is the day we don’t “work” on recovery. We take a break from supplements, running, etc. We stick to the diet but enjoy “easier” foods like burgers on the grill.

This summary doesn’t include the day-to-day conflicts, heartache, tears that go with the de-tox, and post-traumatic experience. Every day is a struggle. But given our last 3 years of doctor’s appointments, hospital visits, and crises, I’m grateful for a healthy routine.

How and why do you blog?

I began this blog with one person in mind--the one who, like me, is experiencing a health crisis with no diagnosis. The person who wonders if the environment could be a factor. The person who feels isolated and alone with the questions that spring from a toxic exposure. I don’t write from a position of happy endings or miracle cures, but as one who is still in the trenches.

My inspiration comes from two historic individuals.

Dr. Viktor Frankl , a holocaust survivor, documented his experience in the book “Man’s Search for Meaning.” I read this book years ago when I was grappling with the deep suffering of Holocaust victims. I’ll never forget his description of the prisoners who gave their bread away. In the midst of their suffering, they were still able to give. That, Frankl says, gave their life meaning and thus the will to survive. That thought has been with me for 20 years.

Harriet Tubman found freedom from slavery through the Underground Railroad. She chose to go back time and time again to help others. Her life has always amazed me. When I realized that we had escaped our home and were traveling in the dark trying to find freedom, I determined to do what I could to help others navigate their way through this maze of decisions and dilemmas. One of her quotes continues to inspire me:

"I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves."

There are many people who are ill due to environmental factors. If our story can help someone make that connection, I’ll keep sharing it.

As for how I do this blog, I honestly don’t know. The blog does not fairly represent the heartache that comes each day. I can’t get my head together at times and can’t imagine putting a coherent word on a page.

Sherry Parmelee, a friend from our Moody days in Chicago, volunteered to help me in January of 2009 when I began. She loves editing and couldn’t help noticing my numerous punctuation and spelling errors. She began to “tweak” my blogs for me, and this soon turned to major editing and rearranging. I would have given up months ago if it weren’t for Sherry. She has her own environmental illness journey and this only adds to her vision to help get the word out.

Sherry's husband Dan has worked tirelessly on the website Moms Against Mold. Still in its infancy, my hope is that it will be a forum for moms and others to exchange information and encouragement. Dan and Sherry have a website consulting business found at this website.

What is your prognosis?

Our story is complicated by our genetic factor. This makes it extremely difficult to get rid of the mycotoxins which have wreaked havoc on our bodies. I carry the double genotype, which means each one of our nine children carry one. Chris doesn’t carry this factor, and this is why avoidance and diet have worked so well for him. His body is slowly recovering on its own.

Thus, my prognosis, along with the children’s, is different. It will require a great deal of hard work and perseverance to recover. Any medical professional who has worked with us has assured us recovery is possible. I remain guardedly optimistic and will continue to do everything within my power to give us the best possible chance. I have no doubt there will be lifelong issues.

What is the status of your home in Colorado? Do you think you will live there again?

Our home remains as we left it on October 4, 2008. A team of experts has been in one time along with a remediator who emptied the refrigerator for us and turned off the electricity. We currently have a forbearance on our mortgage pending legal action. We’re not sure if that will continue. Legal action is our best hope to avoid foreclosure.

We tested 3 months after we left and found high levels of toxic mold. To clean the home would require another $40,000. Cleaning it would not locate the source and therefore we have hesitations about covering up the problem. We have been advised not to live there again.

My gut feeling is to follow the protocol set forth in Leviticus. If mold is found in a home, the family is to vacate. If the mold comes back after cleaning, the home is to be demolished. We have already replaced the carpet and replaced two bathrooms, and still there is serious mold amplification. Because of numerous structural defects, I think it would be best to tear it down and start again, though we are open to other options.

Regardless, we are in a difficult holding pattern until we know the outcome of the legal action.

What about your older kids? Are any of them able to work or go to college?

Our three oldest daughters each lived in the most contaminated room at some point in their adolescent years. I have shared very little about their sufferings. It’s too soon. Their lives have been put on hold as they pour themselves into recovery. I can’t say enough about their courageous determination.

Ryan was able to complete high school, but had to put his dream to pursue acting in New York City on hold. He has committed this year to regaining his health. His digestive tract took a huge hit and he continues to amaze me with his meticulous attention to his diet and exercise protocol.

Kristen is taking one geometry class through a program called Teaching Textbooks. Because of her level of fatigue, this is just the right amount of study for her. Her plan is to obtain her GED and look toward Community College next year.

What have you learned about health through this experience?

The dramatic rise in chemical use in recent years, combined with the lack of knowledge about mold and mycotoxins, along with tighter building construction, has led to illnesses which are foreign to the medical community at large. Our bodies have been unable to adapt to the chemical assault and our buildings have less ventilation. A myriad of health issues have emerged. We’re just beginning to connect these with the environment. Thanks to the information on the Internet, many of us have been able to diagnose ourselves.

I've also learned the value of symptoms. We like to make symptoms "go away" without considering the cause. I think our bodies let us know when something is off. If we choose to listen to our symptoms rather than mask them, we have a much better chance to recover.

I have taken great inspiration from Hippocrates the Greek physician, who emphasized the importance of clean air, clean water, and clean food.

Birthday Bears

We've celebrated two birthdays in a week. Ryan turned 19 on November 29th and Colin turned 10 on Saturday. Chris figured out we've celebrated 128 birthdays in the last 24 years.

Last year's birthdays were something to "survive." We tried to "get through" the day, trying our best to minimize the kids' inevitable disappointment. We were on the run, de-toxing, and unable to offer much more than a present and maybe a dinner out.

These two birthdays felt almost normal. Well, normal in light of our "new normal." We decorated and baked. Played hide and seek. Laughed. Shannon and I took Ryan to Best Buy to look at movies. Chris took Colin and a few of the kids to Build-a-Bear. Even Erin came home with a bear.

I think we'll title this picture "Re-Build a Life" Bears.

MCS Accommodations

I'm not a big fan of the term "multiple chemical sensitivity." It sounds like we get our feelings hurt easily. Or we overreact to people and places. As if it's all in our heads. Recently Chris took a trip to West Virginia. It took him 3 hotel rooms and 2 rental cars to be able to function. This is far from an imagined illness.

Dr. Mark Donohoe, an Australian doctor specializing in environmental medicine, offers the following definition in his article Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: A Medical Perspective:

"Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) is an acquired condition in which the sufferer becomes sensitised or abnormally reactive to volatile chemicals following prolonged, recurrent or high dose exposure to volatile chemicals. The most distinctive symptom is 'cacosmia,' or a heightened sensitivity and lowered threshold to odours that most of the population find inoffensive or would not notice."

(It's important to note that toxic mold gives off volatile organic compounds. These constitute the "musty" smell.)

Dr. Donohoe goes on to say, "Specific tests such as Auditory Evoked Response Potential (AERP) testing and SPECT brain scans have shown significant changes in people suffering Multiple chemical sensitivities, and these changes are consistent with neurotoxic brain damage."

This is why I might prefer the term NBI or Neurotoxic Brain Injury rather than MCS.

A friend of mine recently sent me the following list of accommodations an organization might make in order to help those of us with MCS (NBI). As one who struggles with church attendance largely due to fragrances, a church that adopted these policies would be a breath of fresh air.

· Choose personal products that are fragrance-free. Be aware that there are hidden, long-lasting fragrances in detergents, fabric softeners, new clothing, deodorants, tissues, toilet paper, potpourris, scented candles, hair sprays, magazines, hand lotions, disposable diapers, and dishwashing liquids.

· Use only unscented soap in restrooms, and carefully wrap and dispose of chemical air "fresheners."

· Designate fragrance-free seating sections for church and community events.

· Designate smoking areas away from buildings so people don't have to pass through smoke when entering, or have smoke waft in through doorways or windows.

· Adopt a policy of using fragrance-free cleaning products.

· Provide adequate ventilation; clean furnace filters frequently.

· Make sure toxic substances are labeled, tightly sealed, and stored in a separate safe area.

· Post herbicide or insecticide application schedule in your newsletter. Post signs of treatment dates prominently. Use integrated pest management practices.

· Avoid wearing scented personal care products in public places. Improve indoor air quality simply by not wearing fragrance. Fragrance, like second-hand smoke, affects the health of those around you.

· Unscented beeswax candles are often well-tolerated by people with sensitivities. Use them as an alternative to scented or paraffin candles.

· Learn what an individual is sensitive/allergic to and make accommodations respectfully.

Mold in the Media

Stories surrounding toxicity in the environment continue to abound.

· A family in suburban Chicago recently vacated their home due to toxic mold. The couple, along with their one-year old twins, were forced to leave after an upstairs neighbor's washing machine flooded and leaked through their ceiling. The resulting mold was remediated improperly and quickly grew. The family became ill, and the husband was hospitalized for breathing problems. The Chicago Tribune ran this story about their plight.

· My friend Kristina, who relocated to Arizona due to a mold exposure in the Virgin Islands, recently sent me this press release about her battle for Social Security benefits. She was working when she was exposed and immediately became disabled. Her story illustrates the hazards of cross-contamination. I've summarized her story here.

· The state of Wisconsin has passed its first Indoor Air Quality law for public and private schools. The move comes after a 5-year effort by mold activist Jeanne Black, whose daughter became ill after attending an elementary/middle school in Darlington, Wisconsin. The Center for School Mold Help has been instrumental in the passage of this law. For more information on this story see SMH's website.

· CBN has set an air date for our story for next Wednesday, December 9. The 700 Club has a weekly Wednesday health segment and our story will appear at that time.

A Hospital Bill and a Reminder

I met with the finance director of a hospital last week. The blood tests from last December weren't fully covered by insurance and our debt had grown.

A $3,000 dollar bill had become $4,500 dollars, and we felt it was unwarranted.

At the time of the first bill from this hospital we were fleeing from a rental home due to pesticide exposure. Medical bills were stacking up from across the country. Our minds were fogged and we struggled just to keep track of the mail being forwarded from Colorado.

Chris handled most of the bills. I set up a payment plan for this hospital and felt confident all was in place.

We were shocked when we heard from a collections agency this last summer. Our debt from this hospital had been turned over to them. "How would you like to pay?" For two people with a spotless credit history, this question felt surreal.

With no paperwork and only their word, we set up a payment schedule.

We continued to ask for a detailed list of charges and several months later received the bill.

There was a $1,500 charge in addition to the $3,000 we owed.

Why weren't we notified by the hospital that this was being transferred? What happened to the payment plan I set up originally?

We requested a meeting with the hospital's finance director and agreed I would represent us since I was the one to set up the plan.

I walked into the hospital last Monday morning with great trepidation. My composure easily gives way to tears anytime I discuss our story.

I gave her a little of our background. I talked about losing our home and the severity of our illnesses, but quickly moved to my point.

"I set up a payment plan with the hospital and heard nothing about other charges until the collections agency called."

"That payment plan involved only one charge. These other charges were not covered under that plan. Further, it is documented that messages were left on someone's phone." She had a demeaning tone of voice. I could tell arguing was not going to help.

"If I write you a check today for what we owe, will you consider reducing this charge?"

(Chris and I agreed, no matter how stretching, it's worth paying now, rather than stringing it out over more months.)

She responded positively. She took off some of the charges. And kept others.

The trip was worthwhile. We paid the hospital and our bill with the collections agency is now at zero.

I walked away with mixed emotions. Thankful for the compromise and release of the debt.

Pained by the reality that we're in rural Arizona fighting a hospital for charges that mark tragic, horrifying events. Pained by the fact that our insurance carrier willingly paid for the 30 doctors who knew nothing about mold illness, but refused payment for the one who did.

The pain trumped my relief until I arrived home and opened a card from a friend.

Who felt led to send a gift card to our favorite health food store.

A gentle reminder.

I don't "need" our insurance company. It would be foolish to believe that.

Fairness and Justice are not in my control.

I don't have to remain stuck in despondency when something bigger and better awaits.

The book of Isaiah tells me,

He gives "a crown of beauty instead of ashes,

the oil of gladness instead of mourning,

and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair."

I'll take those health benefits any day.

Thanksgiving Menu

I stand amazed.

We actually cooked a yeast-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, nut-free, wheat-free, sugar-free, casein-free Thanksgiving dinner. And loved it!

We have come to realize just how intolerant our bodies have become to processed foods in any form. The more we gravitate to a raw/whole foods diet, the better we feel.

This is our menu from yesterday:

Turkey (free-range, no antibiotics or hormones) with oil and spices. Cavity filled with onions, garlic, and celery.

Mashed red potatoes. We can't tolerate the starch in Russet potatoes, so we opted to try twice-baked red potatoes. We boiled the potatoes, mashed them with chicken broth, added stir-fried onions, garlic, and green pepper, and baked them for 20 minutes. We had no leftovers.

Yams slow-cooked with adzuki beans, tomatoes, and vegetables in a vegetable broth.

Cranberry sauce. Made with freshly juiced apples and stevia.

Our courageous friends, who graciously gave up the traditional fare, brought green beans flavored with lemon pepper, and squash with nothing added.

Cindy blazed the dessert trail by making all sorts of gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free pumpkin pies. She even made gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free pumpkin pudding with coconut milk in place of evaporated milk.

Two Thanksgivings ago we ate at our neighbors' home. We were in the midst of our son's battle with vertigo. Megan carried him home that night.

Last Thanksgiving we ate at a restaurant. Headaches, depression, and stomach pains prevailed.

This year we played Outburst with friends.

We're getting there. One gluten-free pumpkin pie at a time.

Thanksgiving Reflections

"At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us."

Albert Schweitzer

"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has."


"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder."

G.K. Chesterton

Rea Treatment Protocol

The Environmental Health Center in Dallas, Texas is one of the few facilities to offer environmentally safe housing in addition to medical services for toxic mold exposure. Founded in 1974 by Dr. William Rea, the Center treats a variety of issues such as allergies, chemical exposures, electrical sensitivities, and more.

Their temporary housing is a model for environmentally safe residences.

Dr. Rea recently published his treatment protocol in the magazine Toxicology and Industrial Health. The article focuses on 28 people who became incapacitated following an exposure to mold and mycotoxins.

These individuals, ranging in age from 12 to 70 (7 males, 21 females), "were studied and treated with a protocol of cleaning up or changing their environment to be mold free," according to the study.

Total environmental load was reduced by professional cleaning of the building involved. Mold cultures were taken before and after the cleaning.

"Forty percent of the patients had to leave the building permanently because even after the cleaning and negative mold plates, they still could not tolerate the building. This intolerance appeared to be due to residual mycotoxin and/or the patient’s inability to tolerate building repair and residual toxic chemicals that they could previously tolerate.

Total body load (Rea, 1997a,b,c) was reduced by having the patients drink less polluted glass bottled spring water and eat organic food with a rotary diet so that the patient would not eat the same food more than once in 4 days. The patients would avoid any food to which they were sensitive."

Treatment included sauna therapy, oral nutrients, oxygen therapy, and more.

The full protocol can be viewed in PDF format by clicking here.

This study serves as a reminder that clean air, clean food, and clean water are key components of recovery.

Determination is pretty important, too.

Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce

It's Thanksgiving week, and many of us are headed to the grocery store for yams, apples, berries, and all sorts of produce. Choosing organic is often daunting because of the price. The good news is we can buy selectively, thanks to a handy shopping guide offered by the Environmental Working Group.

The EWG is a watchdog organization seeking to protect human health and raise awareness on environmental issues such as pesticides. Its free Shopper's Guide, now in its 5th edition, shows which fruits and vegetables are most apt to have significant pesticides. According to the EWG, consumers can reduce their exposure by 80 percent by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables.

This, of course, is valuable information for those fighting a toxic exposure such as mold. But it's also valuable to anyone who wants to lighten their toxic load even if their health is strong.

According to the EWG, "If consumers get their USDA-recommended 5 daily servings of fruits and vegetables from the 15 most contaminated, they could consume an average of 10 pesticides a day. Those who eat the 15 least contaminated conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables ingest less than 2 pesticides daily."

Here are the 12 fruits and vegetables determined to be most contaminated. The EWG calls these the "Dirty Dozen":

· Peach
· Apple
· Bell Pepper
· Celery
· Nectarine
· Strawberries
· Cherries
· Kale
· Lettuce
· Grapes (imported)
· Carrot
· Pear

The "Clean 15" are as follows:

· Onion
· Avocado
· Sweet Corn
· Pineapple
· Mango
· Asparagus
· Sweet Peas
· Kiwi
· Cabbage
· Eggplant
· Papaya
· Watermelon
· Broccoli
· Tomato
· Sweet Potato

The Shopper's Guide can be downloaded free at this site.

Our Last Puppy

I couldn't find Brandon anywhere the other morning. He woke up, walked through the kitchen, and disappeared.

He was in our house. Just in an unusual spot. Unusual for a child who has hit the ground running since the day he learned he could climb out of his crib.

Brandon was our only child born in Colorado. He was a week early, in NICU for a few days, and only nursed for 6 weeks. Something was different about Brandon from the beginning.

He had trouble making eye contact. Even with me. He was easily distracted. Which made nursing difficult. As he grew older he was just plain difficult. He didn't listen well and was extremely independent. Dangerously independent.

I didn't realize how "undisciplined" he was until kindergarten. He was one of those uncontrollable little boys. A new experience for this veteran mother. Our older kids weren't angels but they were pretty compliant in school.

During his kindergarten year I picked up a book titled "The Last Puppy."

"I was the last of momma's nine puppies," the book begins. Each day the puppy waits for someone to pick him. All of his siblings get picked and he waits. "When will my turn come?" the puppy asks. Of course he gets picked at just the right time by just the right little girl.

Brandon's kindergarten "All About Me" poster looked like this:

"I am special because _______________"

"I'm the last puppy."

By first grade his PE teacher pulled me aside. He was about to pull his hair out because of Brandon. This was 4 months after our massive exposure and our world was beginning to unravel. Brandon's uncontrollable behavior was put on the back burner. I sympathized with the teacher. I had similar feelings.

Another teacher was shocked when I told her that Brandon came home one day in tears because the kids made fun of a little girl. "I'm so glad you told me that," she said. I know she had a hard time seeing past his behavior. I did too.

If we weren't so focused on the myriad of illnesses we were experiencing we might have pursued testing for ADD or ADHD. In my mind, Brandon was a classic case.

It wasn't until I read the book "Your Guide to Mold Toxins" by Dr. James Schaller that I connected Brandon's behavior to our mold exposure. Even then I was skeptical.

When I received my Mycotoxin 101 education from Dr. Gray 4 months after we left our home, I learned that mycotoxins create noise in the brain. One reason why exposed children have a hard time sitting still.

I had renewed hope that we didn't need a parenting class. We needed to de-tox our child.

Every time we've experienced a setback, like the severe pesticide exposure, or high amounts of sugar, we've noticed Brandon relapse into "wild" behavior. Inappropriate giggling, talking incessantly, misbehavior.

Little by little over the last 10 months we've watched him change. His tutor recently commented, "He's making eye contact!"

Last week when I couldn't find him after he woke up, the last place I checked was back in his bed.

There he was. Curled up reading Charlotte's Web. He had been reading for an hour.

I can't believe how different he is.

The Brandon who lurks behind those toxic chains is emerging.

(photo by Kristen Fabry)
Brandon has a ways to go. He still gets distracted. He still has trouble focusing.

That's okay. Because, even when life is hard, moments become years in the blink of an eye.

Last Puppies get picked. All too soon.

Mold Testimonies

I continue to hear from people all over the country who have battled mold. The following two stories demonstrate the range of experiences. From quick remediation, to undetected and massive exposure like ours. I share them both, with permission, knowing that each story will help others who find themselves confronted with water leaks and/or resulting mold.

Story 1
Last week we discovered mold in our crawl space because of a sump pump failure that left standing water for several days. Thankfully – I went right to your blog and read your recommendations. We were able to follow your instructions, and a quality mold remediation company has spent the last week drying, testing and remediating the crawl space. If I had not heard your story or read your blog, I would have probably ignored the mold or if I had pursued it, I would not have pursued a qualified company. The air and tape test showed coelomycetes and penicillium – in high concentrations in the crawl space with very little in the living space.

Story 2
By blood tests and history, I was diagnosed with environmental illness by an expert named Dr. Eckhardt Johanning in 1999. I was only 17 at the time my symptoms became debilitating (in 1998) and was profoundly affected by the mold spores circulating in our house - the levels being highest in my bedroom.

We do not know how long the mold had been growing in the walls of our house but had lived there 14 years. My mother, like you, found a small dark patch on the carpet in my room, near the leg of my wooden desk (which had been wicking water up the leg from under the carpet). We went through professional air testing, and my family was late in vacating because we had no idea how serious the situation was at the time.

I stayed with a friend, but eventually we ended up in temporary housing - first a hotel suite that had a kitchenette sprayed with pesticides, second an apartment with rental furniture that had been treated with pesticides, and third another apartment with a water leak and more mold.

Over the course of all of these moves, it was recognized that we all had multiple chemical sensitivity. We had a plastic patio table and airbeds for furniture. We carried our clothes around in garbage bags. At the time, we couldn't go to movies, the grocery store, or virtually any public place without having symptoms and feeling disoriented. My symptoms included profound fatigue, swollen glands, sore throats, flushing in my face, diarrhea, frequent urination, headaches, muscle twitching, constant dizziness, an inability to multitask, inability to concentrate, irritability, memory problems, nosebleeds, and severe muscle aches.

I had always had sinus problems as well. I had no energy and slept constantly. I ended up having many school absences in high school, losing a summer job I valued, and having to leave my first college due to their regular (and excessive) pesticide spraying.

My parents suffered from lung problems, fatigue, ringing in the ears, concentration problems, memory issues, and rash. We were extraordinarily damaged physically and traumatized emotionally. We were constantly trying to prevent cross-contamination. We lost our home, our belongings, and our sense of well-being and had to battle the insurance company on top of it, taking a big financial hit.

I had to write to share my story because reading about what you've gone through was like finally finding someone who understands what we endured. Telling your story through your blog is so powerful and important. At times, I feel as if what we went through wasn't real - simply a horrific nightmare - with no validation for our experience, no one who could possibly understand the devastation. It's always been such a battle just to have chemical sensitivity understood, believed, and accommodated.

As I read your story, I felt such overwhelming sorrow and compassion for what your family has suffered. The familiar details you posted triggered all the old emotions to come flooding back. We had people disregard and minimize our problems - doctors who told us we were overreacting to "odors" and insurance people who didn't wear any kind of protective masks when going through our house.

It was such a terrible time for us, and as someone who has survived 10 years after the trauma (in addition to my grandparents' home having the same problem in 2004), I'm writing to say that I have felt that extreme pain and that my faith in Christ is what has sustained me.

Shelter from the Storm

It's been a rough week at the "cactus compound and de-tox center" (the name for our rental home given by my husband). Lots of reminders of why we're in the middle of the desert away from civilization. A virus caught at the gym, a reaction to a perfume at a store, headaches from a used computer, etc.

I knew within a month of vacating our home that recovery would mean some major changes. I just didn't know how drastic. Our diet is so radically different I still can't believe my kids are satisfied with stir-fried brown rice and aduki beans as a main meal.

I really can't believe my kids are being taught at home by a tutor provided by the school district. I certainly would never have imagined that the highlight of my week would be my trip to the Farmer's Market around the corner.

That's our life now. For how long? I don't know. I do know that when we signed our 1-year lease in August we were committing to a season of voluntary "confinement" in order to heal from the vicious assault waged by toxic mold.

It's a risk for sure. One that I'm willing to take if there's any chance of giving my kids a second chance at life.

The Bible talks about the sparrow and assures me that I don't have to be afraid for our future, for I am "worth more than many sparrows."

I saw a sparrow not long ago. It was on our back porch during the final monsoon of the season.

We watched in silence. The bird stood so calmly. So confidently. So willingly.

Confident that the storm would pass. Certain that he was safest under our roof rather than the trees. Content to wait. Ready to fly.

I hate that my kids aren't at sleepovers and birthday parties. I miss our friends and community. I long for healthy interaction with the outside world.

But I'm confident that our bodies need this rest. Certain that our immune systems need the opportunity to heal. And I'm content to wait it out. Most days.

My greatest hope is that one day, sooner than I might expect, my children will fly again.

When they do, I hope and pray they witness the same signature we saw moments after our sparrow flew away.

(Photos by Kristen Fabry)

A Small Step, A Giant Leap

Your doctor may soon be telling you to back off on the use of plastics, eliminate the use of toxic chemicals in your home, and find natural alternatives for pesticides and herbicides. You may even be encouraged one day in the future to check your home for toxic mold.

The following press release was issued this week:

The American Medical Association's (AMA) House of Delegates adopted a resolution calling on the AMA to work with the federal government to enact new federal policies to decrease the public's exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs).

The resolution, introduced by The Endocrine Society, reflects the findings and recommendations of The Endocrine Society’s peer-reviewed Scientific Statement on EDCs released by the Society this past June. Adoption of this resolution means that it is now AMA policy and is wholly supported by the House of Medicine.

What are these EDCs?

An endocrine disrupter is a chemical that disrupts or interferes with the proper functioning of the endocrine system.

Examples of these agents include phthalates, PCBs and polychlorinated dibenzodioxins, brominated flame retardants, dioxins, DDT, perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), organochlorine pesticides, bisphenol A, and some metals.

Where do you find these agents?

In common household pesticide and herbicide products, meat supplies, fish, household plastics, water bottles, and more.

What does all of this have to do with toxic mold?

The mycotoxins released by molds such as stachybotrys, aspergillus, penicillium, and others have the same impact on the body as the poisonous substances referred to in this statement.

I know this from personal experience. Our endocrine systems have still not recovered from our mold exposure. Here are some of the conditions we're still battling:

Adrenal fatigue, diabetes, excessive menstrual bleeding, halted menstrual cycles, endometriosis, chronic fatigue, gynecomastia (swelling of breast tissue in boys), thyroid dysfunction, and more.

Dr. Michael Gray was the first doctor to explain to me the effects of endocrine disrupters. He urged us to avoid plastics, buy organic, and explained why we were seeing so much hormonal imbalance in our family. He wrote this in the article titled Molds, Mycotoxins, and Human Health (italics are mine):

Mycotoxins produced by structural molds--meaning molds imported into the residences, workplaces, and public buildings on the paper covering the drywall, and other wood based composite materials--often represent some of the most toxic substances known to humankind.

The climate of "deregulation" that has prevailed since the early eighties has favored the proliferation of new construction in which building codes requiring pretreatment of building materials with anti-fungal agents have simply not been adequately enforced.

This in turn has led to circumstances, which when coupled with "corner-cutting" structural defects, have led to the conditions which favor water intrusion that has all too often allowed the appearance of truly toxic levels of mold spores and mycotoxins, which are, in turn, capable of inducing serious diseases resulting from the presence of agents with the potential for damaging the human immune system, inducing allergies, gastrointestinal disorders, skin disease, neurological disease, endocrine disruption, birth defects, cancer, pulmonary, renal, hepatic, and general metabolic disorders.

What does the AMA resolution mean for the average consumer?

The Natural Resources Defense Council offers these suggestions to reduce your exposure to EDCs:

- Educate yourself about endocrine disruptors, and educate your family and friends.

- Buy organic food whenever possible.

- Avoid using pesticides in your home or yard, or on your pet--use baits or traps instead, keeping your home especially clean to prevent ant or roach infestations.

- Find out if pesticides are used in your child's school or day care center and campaign for non-toxic alternatives.

- Avoid fatty foods such as cheese and meat whenever possible.

- If you eat fish from lakes, rivers, or bays, check with your state to see if they are contaminated.

- Avoid heating food in plastic containers, or storing fatty foods in plastic containers or plastic wrap.

- Do not give young children soft plastic teethers or toys, since these leach potential endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

- Support efforts to get strong government regulation of and increased research on endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

I am excited about this AMA statement. The tide continues to turn and there is hope for change.

In my opinion, it's one small step for the AMA, one potential giant leap for mankind.

Food Inc.

"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge."

- Hosea 4:6

The prophet Hosea makes it clear that voluntary blindness is a lethal choice.

Knowledge is better than ignorance. Especially in terms of the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.

When our health fails us, self-education is a wise and often a necessary means of recovery.

A powerful documentary was released on DVD November 3rd. "Food Inc." shows us exactly what is behind the fast food we eat in restaurants and even what we buy at grocery stores.

Click here to see the trailer

When viewing this film it helps to understand that corn and peanuts are among the foods commonly contaminated with mycotoxins, including the known carcinogen aflatoxin. Those of us who have suffered a major mold exposure recognize this mycotoxin as one that comes from the mold type aspergillus. Knowledge about mycotoxins in food is critical to our recovery.

Doug Kaufmann says this in his book "The Fungus Link ":

". . . random testing results tell us that when we avoid eating corn, peanuts, and anything that contains them, we remove a major, potential source of mycotoxins from our diets."

Discernment is always a must, but from my perspective this film serves as a valuable tool for anyone eager to improve their health.

Haunting Question

"How could you not have known?"

Every once in a while this question haunts me. "How could you see so much sickness and not consider your environment?"

I remember the first time my friend, Lisa, suggested the possibility that our indoor air was a factor. It was December, 2007. Reagan had just returned home from his fourth ear surgery.

She used the phrase "sick building."

I didn't dismiss her. But it sure seemed unlikely if not impossible that our mold remediation had anything to do with Reagan's vertigo and hearing loss. Or Colin's diabetes. Or the fact that Kaitlyn was calling from school saying she was dizzy. Or the issues with our older children.

After all, we had been assured numerous times that mold is harmless.

Nonetheless I called an environmental hygienist to check it out.

"Do any of your children have respiratory illness?" he asked.

"No," I answered.

"Then I wouldn't waste your money on an air test," he assured me.

I was relieved. In retrospect I don't know why I was relieved. Maybe because the environment road would require something more of us. Maybe because deep down I knew the ramifications of discovering our home was making us sick.

We kept going to doctors. The kids kept getting sicker. And I kept denying my own declining health.

In all we saw 30 medical professionals. When possible I mentioned my other kids' illnesses. Quickly these would be minimized or dismissed as irrelevant. I kept hearing the word "stress" or "psychologist" or "enabling." Because of my desperation I began to think outside of the box. I began to think for myself. I was no longer willing to accept the prevailing "symptom management" mentality.

We found mold again. In an upstairs bathroom. We called the same remediation company but my awakening helped me question their remediation practices. Thanks to wise counsel we decided to test our home, something the remediator never suggested.

These are the medical issues we were experiencing at the time we tested our home in May of 2008.

Endometriosis, vertigo, hearing loss, frequent urination, shortness of breath, type 1 diabetes, severe rashes, headaches, seizures, hair loss, sleep disturbance, fits of rage, muscle pain, diarrhea, ADD, memory loss, brain fog, abdominal pain, ear ringing, convergence insufficiency, depression, anxiety disorders, personality alterations, numb hands, cold feet, chronic sore throat, food allergies, severe acne, nosebleeds, nail fungus, weight changes, metallic taste, vision disturbances, swollen adenoids, and migraines.

Our test results came back on May 22, 2008. High levels of stachybotrys. 400 times the amount of mold indoors compared with outdoors.

"How could we not have known?"


When I try to answer this question I spiral into a world of self-centeredness and self-pity.

I find myself asking a different question these days,

"What will we do with what we now know?"

Now this question leads to a world of endless possibilities, hope, and healing.

Call to Action

As our family continues to put our heart and soul into a long and extensive recovery from mold poisoning, I remain adamant that education is the key to awakening our country to the dangers of toxic mold.

The following paper was released more than 2 years ago by the University of Pittsburgh. Clearly a call to action, the authors offer stunning evidence that toxic mold is truly the lead and radon issue of our day.

For millennia, doctors and public health workers have understood the role of indoor environments in causing or exacerbating human diseases. For example, Hippocrates was aware of the adverse effects of polluted indoor air in crowded cities and mines, and Biblical Israelites understood the dangers of living in damp housing (Leviticus 14:34−57).

Indoor hazards include biological, chemical, and physical contaminants that cause or exacerbate a variety of adverse health effects in humans. In modern societies, people spend about 90% of their time indoors, and most of that time is spent in private homes (people in the United States, Canada, and Germany spend on average 15.6−15.8 h per day in their homes). Hence, indoor environmental quality (IEQ) may significantly affect public health and well-being.

Mold and moisture in indoor environments have been recognized as important public health concerns. Extensive water damage to buildings increases the likelihood of severe mold contamination. Mold can cause human illness through several mechanisms, including allergy, infection, and toxicity.

Longitudinal studies have shown that children exposed to high levels of indoor mold in their early years and adults who have lived in damp homes for a number of years have an increased probability of developing asthma. Infants with or without asthmatic mothers experience increased wheezing and coughing associated with mold exposure. There is sufficient evidence of association between indoor mold exposure and asthma symptoms in sensitized asthmatic persons, upper respiratory tract symptoms, hypersensitivity pneumonitis in susceptible persons, wheeze, and cough.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, mold was listed as one of the top nine health hazards in the Gulf Coast region.

Molds have been associated with superficial infections in humans, and with aggressive infections in immunocompromised or immunodeficient individuals. In addition, some molds can produce specific mycotoxins (secondary metabolites) under defined circumstances. These low-molecular-weight chemicals may cause toxic effects (mycotoxicosis) in humans. Toxicity of ingested mycotoxins has been reported in occupational settings. In non-occupational settings, considerable controversy exists regarding both the dose and route of exposure required for mycotoxicosis.

Extensive research is underway to understand the risk to human health from particular mycotoxins in indoor air. Importantly, recent findings may prove useful in developing a biomarker for exposure to the fungus Stachybotrys chartarum, which produces trichothecene mycotoxins.

Major barriers exist to developing policies to improve IEQ in general, and particularly in home environments in situations such as mold remediation. Due to privacy concerns, governments are reluctant to make regulations that affect individual homes. Second, indoor environmental quality (including moisture and mold prevalence), with its many contributing factors and complex interactions, is difficult to regulate. Third, little attention has been given to the health costs of living in mold-damaged homes and the health benefits of remediating such homes.

Nonetheless, there exist examples of successful policies that have resulted in reduced burdens of two indoor contaminants, radon and lead. (Although asbestos is another important case, it is more relevant to workplaces than to homes, and thus is not included in this analysis.) For lead, federal regulations have led to reduced lead exposure in U.S. homes, and to significant health benefits for children and adults. For radon, economic incentives are used; in many states, sellers are required to disclose home radon levels, although they are not required to reduce the levels. Rather, the incentive to remediate comes both from marketing the home to potential buyers, and from health concerns on the part of the home owners. Policy-driven campaigns to reduce home-based exposures to both radon and lead have included a significant public education component.

We suggest that these two cases provide valuable guidance for controlling mold in home environments. By identifying similarities and differences between the situation regarding indoor moisture and mold (e.g., health effects, socioeconomic considerations, interventions and their costs, and public concern) and those of radon and lead, we suggest policy approaches for control of moisture and mold in homes.

I have omitted the numerous references for readability. The entire article may be viewed here.

Pesticide Tragedy

A 10-month-old infant died earlier this week of pesticide exposure in his mobile home. The young mother had been trying for several weeks to eradicate roaches and other insects from using foggers. The 2-year-old brother was hospitalized, as well as the mother.

This story is agonizing on so many levels. A young mother trying desperately to stop the infestation using common household products. Unaware of the true hazards of the foggers.

I share the following fact sheet in honor of this family, in hopes that the more we understand the hazards of pesticides used commonly in our homes, schools, and workplaces, the more suffering and loss we can prevent.

Active Ingredients
The active ingredient, usually the only component of the formulation listed on the pesticide label, is by nature biologically and chemically active against a target pest, be it an insect, weed or fungus. By definition these chemicals kill living things.

Contaminants and Impurities
Contaminants and impurities are often a part of the pesticide product and responsible for product hazards. Dioxin and DDT have been identified as contaminants, which have not been purposefully added but are a function of the production process.

Metabolites are breakdown products that form when a pesticide is used in the environment and mixes with air, water, soil or living organisms. Often the metabolite is more hazardous than the parent pesticide.

Inert Ingredients
If you were to go to your local hardware store and take a look at the label on a can of ant and roach killer, the contents might read something like this, “5% Permethrin, 95% Inert Ingredients.” After reading the label, you may wonder what makes up the other 95%. The fact is, the manufacturer doesn’t have to tell you. Currently, under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), pesticide manufacturers are only required to list the active ingredients in a pesticide, leaving consumers and applicators unaware of the possible toxics present in the inert ingredients of pesticide products they are using, unless the EPA administrator determines that the chemical poses a public health threat. Pesticide manufacturers argue they cannot release information on inert ingredients because they are trade secrets, and if released, their products could be duplicated. Quite often inert ingredients constitute over 95% of the pesticide product. Inert ingredients are mixed into pesticides products as a carrier or sticking agent, and are often as toxic as the active ingredient.

The Hazards of Inert Ingredients
Despite their name, these ingredients are neither chemically, biologically or toxicologically inert. In general, inert ingredients are minimally tested, however, many are known to state, federal and international agencies to be hazardous to human health. For example, the U.S. government lists creosols as a “Hazardous Waste” under Superfund regulations, yet allows these chemicals to be listed as inert ingredients in pesticide products. Creosols are known to produce skin and eye irritations, burns, inflammation, blindness, pneumonia, pancreatitis, central nervous system depression and kidney failure. Some inert ingredients are even more toxic than the active ingredients. One of the most hazardous ingredients in the commonly used herbicide RoundUp® is a surfactant, which is classified as an inert, and therefore not listed on the label. The pesticide naphthalene is an inert ingredient in some products and listed as an active ingredient in others. According to a 2000 report produced by the New York State Attorney General, The Secret Ingredients in Pesticides: Reducing the Risk, 72 percent of pesticide products available to consumers contain over 95 percent inert ingredients; fewer than 10 percent of pesticide products list any inert ingredients on their labels; more than 200 chemicals used as inert ingredients are hazardous pollutants in federal environmental statutes governing air and water quality; and, of a 1995 list of inert ingredients, 394 chemicals were listed as active ingredients in other pesticide products.

This fact sheet and many others are available at the website

Book Review: Mold: the War Within

Kurt and Lee Ann Billings relocated to Louisiana in May of 2005. On August 29th Hurricane Katrina tore through the southern coast, affecting the lives of millions of people. The Billings' home in Lake Charles did not collapse nor was it engulfed in water. It did become infested with mold, however, and the Billings were relocated to Montana to a Red Cross shelter. Their health did not improve, and after numerous treatments, the Billings found their way back to health through a variety of natural methods.

They have documented their journey in the book Mold: The War Within. It is one of best books I have read on the subject. It is filled with scientific evidence that mold is indeed harmful and includes numerous interviews with leading experts in the field.

The following is an excerpt from the first chapter, titled "Mold can't hurt you - or can it?"

Battle preparation is crucial when it comes to fighting fungus. We must create an internal biological terrain resistant to fungal invasion to ensure, at worst, that we lose only a few battles, not The War Within.

Mold is an unwelcome guest in homes anywhere, anytime enough moisture accumulates. It can grow inside the walls of our homes from a leak or from current energy efficient building methods that create houses that can't adequately "breathe," which prevents built-up moisture from evaporating. When enough moisture accumulates, from whatever source, a sick building situation can occur. So even if we are not in the heart of New Orleans or a surrounding area, we all have a vested interest in obtaining a "mold education." We cannot rely on others to educate us, as it could cost us our health.

A prime example of the importance of self education was seen post-Katrina. Richard Lipsey, PhD, a toxicologist who performed fungal and bacterial sampling in St. Bernard Parish on February 11, 2006, states, "I was shocked to find out that the Habitat for Humanity volunteers that I toured with, and who were trained by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), had been told that mold cannot hurt you and you do not need any protective equipment."

That statement "Mold cannot hurt you" told to the Habitat for Humanity volunteers echoes what we heard from medical doctors. This type of ignorance and propagation of misinformation will perpetuate ignorance and complacency. Without accurate information regarding associated health risks from mold exposure, people will not take measures to protect themselves. The truth is that fungal exposure can lead to mycosis, which is an infection or disease caused by a fungus, and/or mycotoxicosis, which is the toxic effect of mycotoxins on animal and human health.

Grapefruit Seed Extract

Oh the wonders of grapefruit seed extract.

We've used it as a nasal spray (highly diluted), taken it as a supplement, and this week I tried it on fungal rashes. I have developed an extreme rash that has taken over both hands. For the first time in 26 years of marriage, I have been unable to wear my wedding ring.

I've been happy to see the rash, actually. It showed up a month ago after acupuncture. More stuff trying to get out of my system. My traditional remedies of neem oil, tea tree oil, and coconut oil have done nothing. Ketaconazole cream helped mildly and only temporarily.

I tried grapefruit seed extract this week after reading the following excerpt in the book "Healing with Whole Foods" by Paul Pitchford. The rash and inflammation have decreased dramatically. The book itself is a blending of Asian tradition with modern nutrition. Notice the author's use of italics to point out the damp diagnosis which we have been attacking with acupuncture.

"Citrus seed extract, an extremely potent natural antibiotic derived primarily from the seeds of grapefruit, was developed after observing that citrus seeds do not readily decompose in nature from microbial action. Slightly warming in thermal nature and exceptionally bitter, citrus seed extract works in the body like most bitters, but more effectively for purposes of drying damp conditions in the body. (Pathogenic microbes can cause as well as feed off damp excesses in the body.)

This extract has been found to inhibit members of several classes of microbes and parasites, among them: protozoa, amoebas, bacteria, viruses, and at least thirty different types of fungi, including the candida yeast-like fungi.

Externally it is applied in various dilutions for warts, athlete's foot, nail fungus, dandruff and other scalp problems, and poison oak; specific liquid formulations containing the extract treat vaginal yeast infection, nasal and sinus problems, and ear infections. Uses in the home involve adding a few drops of the extract to water for soaking produce to remove parasites and pesticides, sterilizing laundry (used this way in hospitals), cleaning contaminating surfaces, kitchen utensils, and cutting boards, and ridding drinking, bathing, and swimming water of microbes."

I've been able to use the extract full strength on my hands. No stinging whatsoever. Others in our family have found it otherwise and used it only in a diluted form. Either way, grapefruit seed extract is a great addition to any home.

With our 27th anniversary coming up in 6 weeks, I'm grateful I can wear my wedding ring again.

I Think I Can

Here's what I've noticed about the recovery process. I will be singing one day and sobbing the next. Two steps forward and one giant step backward.

It's a roller coaster. It's a climb. It's the harsh reality of a toxic mold exposure.

It's been 10 months of solid recovery work. We went into this with a head start. We saw an orthospinologist (chiropractic specialist) for 4 months prior to leaving our home. I'm still grateful for that initial message to our bodies that it's time to unload the "junk" we had accumulated over the years through the mold exposure in our home, the foods, and our life in a toxic world.

We headed to Arizona and I soon realized that no doctor and no protocol will make us well. Our genetics combined with our high and prolonged exposure meant that dedication and determination would be essential if we were to unload enough to lead a "recovered" life.

So here we are 10 months later. With some new strategies and some old ones. We're still taking numerous supplements but nothing synthetic. No more cholestyramine. We seem to plateau at times. As if our bodies need a good kick to remind us what health looks like. Acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and the dietary changes have helped.

I've been thinking lately about the "Little Engine that Could." Such a simple story: A willing engine with a daunting task. Pulling another engine over a mountain to save the hearts of some children. I feel like that engine sometimes. Still climbing. Trying to believe I can get to the other side. Wondering what the other side looks like.

The engine makes it, unloads, and the children receive their gifts. And so the story ends,

And they learned one important lesson from the Little Engine. There are many things we can accomplish if only we would try. If only we would say, "I think I can."

Chug Chug. Puff Puff.

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.

The Bullet Ant

We've been watching Discovery Channel's "Planet Earth." The report on fungus and the rainforest is particularly mesmerizing. The piece focuses on a lone bullet ant whose body is infiltrated with a parasitic fungus. His body and mind become so disoriented he clings to a tree.

His fellow workers find him, carry him away, and leave him to die. They remove him to avoid the deadly spores that will soon burst from his body. Spores that can wipe out the entire colony.

We stand to learn a great deal from the ants of the rainforest.

First, the bullet ant has a sting which is ranked as the most painful of all wasp, bee, or ant stings. Fungus, in the right setting, can debilitate the most powerful of creatures. Humans are no exception.

The narrator uses the word "disoriented" to describe the ant's irrational actions. The ant climbs up the tree and clings to it. Fungal exposure causes brain fog in humans. Disoriented is a good word.

In my mind, the key lesson lies in the fact that the ants know and understand the fungal threat. They take action to protect the colony.

The Bible tells us to learn from the ant. "Consider her ways and be wise." (Proverbs 6:6)

10 Tips for Staying Ahead of Mold Growth

Once you're confident your home is clear of toxic mold, here are some suggestions for keeping it that way.

1. Make sure your bathrooms have proper ventilation. Keep them dry and clean. Replace old fans if necessary. Open a window if possible. Use a small fan if necessary.

2. Squeegee the walls after a shower. Or wipe down with towels.

3. Do not hang wet towels in the bathroom. New towels are best for each shower or bath.

4. Use a lightweight fabric shower curtain liner. Wash frequently. Studies show that vinyl emits toxins and attracts mold. See this article for more information.

5. Keep your refrigerator clean. Keep only fresh foods.

6. Avoid wallpaper, especially in bathrooms.

7. Change cat litter daily.

8. Keep clutter to a minimum. Throw away piles of newspapers, magazines, etc.

9. Avoid swamp coolers. Keep dehumidifiers clean.

10. Check for leaks frequently. Fix all leaks immediately. Consider installing a moisture sensor alarm. If you leave your home for more than a few days consider turning off the main water valve.

Vaccine Controversy

The controversy surrounding vaccinations is rising steadily in our country. The H1N1 vaccine has taken center stage. While the primary purpose of my blog is to alert people to the dangers of toxic mold, I share the following information to help others sift through the conflicting information regarding human health.

Dr. Joseph Mercola has been a tremendous help to me in this regard. Controversies like these are daunting and require us to think for ourselves. But I would rather be overwhelmed than uninformed.

Dr. Mercola Swine Flu Update

Dr. Russell Blaylock, a neurosurgeon who recently retired to devote his full attention to nutritional studies and research, has written extensively on the issue of vaccination. He wrote this in his recent publication The Blaylock Wellness Report:

"The flu virus is supposed to cause a 'cytokine storm,' and this inflammatory overreaction is what causes the damage, not the virus itself. This is interesting because all vaccines also cause a cytokine storm, one that can last for decades. This is why vaccines are linked to sudden death, joint pains, depression, weakness and fatigue, mental cloudiness, seizures, neurological disorders, and autoimmune diseases."

My ears perk up when I hear the term "cytokine storm." Exposure to toxic mold and its contaminants causes a similar immune response. Cytokines recognize "invaders" and recruit additional cytokines in response to the attack.

Further, according to Dr. Blaylock,

"... there are a great number of natural substances that are also known to calm cytokine storms, but they are much less expensive and have virtually no serious side effects."

Dr. Blaylock lists numerous such substances like Vitamin D3, carotenoids, and buffered Vitamin C.

For specifics regarding these supplements, see his webpage The Truth about the Flu Shot.

An Imaginary Conversation

I had a conversation with our pediatrician recently. One regarding the first year we lived in our Colorado home. This conversation took place in my head. An imaginary dialogue that occurred in June of 2001, one year after we moved into the home.

Doctor: Well, Mrs. Fabry, I've noticed you've had all of your 8 children in the office this year with a variety of illnesses. Let's see, we have your 6-year-old daughter diagnosed with complex partial seizure disorder. I'm sorry to hear you had to make that midnight run to the emergency room, but I'm glad you're under the care of a trusted neurologist.

I notice your 16-year-old daughter's nut allergy has become severe in this last year.

I also see that your 2-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn, had an unusual hospitalization. Ileus is very uncommon in young children. I know I'm reiterating what you heard in the hospital, but indeed, this is very unique. I also see that you've had several of the kids in with strep this year. In fact, Shannon's case was extremely severe. You mentioned she was vomiting, the pain was so severe.

Andrea: Yes, it has been quite a year. In 16 years of parenting, I've never had a year like it, in fact. I've hardly been able to keep up with the level of care needed.

Doctor: Have you by any chance lost any pets this year?

Andrea: Funny you would mention that. We lost our bird Gabriel in February.

Doctor: How long have you lived in your current home?

Andrea: We moved in one year ago.

Doctor: Have you noticed any water stains or had any water leaks?

Andrea: Not that I'm aware of. There is a brown stain on our daughter's carpet right beside the bathroom. I'm not sure what that is. Why?

Doctor: Whenever I see a family with a variety of illnesses, I think immediately of environmental issues, specifically water intrusion. Some water leaks you don't see for years. But mold can grow behind the walls. You might check that out.

Andrea: That's an entirely new thought to me. I don't even know where to begin.

Doctor: I don't know much about mold and mycotoxin exposure. But there are hygienists who can help you determine if you have a problem. And doctors who know a lot more about it than I do. I'd be happy to help connect you with any one of them.

Andrea: Thank you, doctor. I believe you just saved our family 10 years of pain and heartache.

6 Key Questions

When health issues exist it's important to consider the environment. Radon, asbestos, and lead are commonly considered. Mold and its contaminants are not. Pesticide use is also critical. Toxicologist Dr. Jack Thrasher offers these six questions for anyone attempting to correlate an illness with the environment.

1. Have you used a pesticide applicator to treat for any type of insects and/or spiders? Inside the home or outside the home?

2. Are you on a septic tank system and do you have sewage-type odors?

3. Has there been water damage? If so, where was the water damage? Molds will grow in wall cavities where moisture accumulates and stays. Other hidden places are back side of carpeting, attic and crawl space. Have these areas been tested?

4. Is there a possibility that you have a defective water heater or heating system in the home? There is a possibility of carbon monoxide.

5. Has your home been tested for molds as follows: wall cavities, attic, crawl space, carpet dust, bulk samples? If so, has the lab determined both genus and species of the molds?

6. Has your home been tested for bacteria at the same time that testing for molds was done? Many of the bacteria present in water-damaged homes and buildings are potential human pathogens. They also produce toxins, and their toxins interact with mold toxins, making both more toxic.