Brittany Murphy News Story

There are numerous celebrities who have dealt with mold issues. Erin Brockovich, Michael Jordan, and Bianca Jagger, to name a few. (See this website for more information.)  Add Rachael Ray to the list, according to this New York Post article.

TMZ has reported that mold has been implicated in the deaths of actress Brittany Murphy and husband Simon Monjack. Both died of pneumonia. Both had anemia. There is a flurry of speculation surrounding this story. The Los Angeles County Assistant Chief Coroner claims the deaths were not mold related. Simon's mother believes it's a possibility.

I agree with Simon's mom. Signs of toxic mold poisoning include anemia and respiratory illness. Prescription or over-the-counter medications would make sense for symptom management.

The critical next step is to get proper testing of the home. Improper testing can result in false conclusions. Air samples alone do not determine the health of an environment. We know this from our own experience. We tested Chris' office soon after we vacated our home. (His office was located in the garage.) Air samples came out completely clean. Dust samples revealed high levels of aspergillus.

I'm not sure we'll ever solve the mystery surrounding the deaths of Brittany Murphy and her husband. We do know this: two people with a bright future succumbed to the same respiratory illness within six months of each other.

I hope and pray this story helps us connect our environment with our health.

Did Toxic Mold Kill Brittany Murphy and Her Husband?

We were saddened by the news of the death of Brittany Murphy in December of 2009.  She was so young and had her whole life ahead of her.  Then when her husband died in the same house in May of 2010, my husband and I looked at each other and said simultaneously "Toxic Mold".  We forgot about it, until one night, my husband asked "Did they ever find out what killed Brittany Murphy's husband?"  I looked it up and it had just been reported that he died of exactly the same thing that Brittany died from.  Our suspicion of toxic mold became more solidified in our minds, having gone through the nightmare of having toxic mold in our home and the near death of our youngest child (read our story).  [Please note that we are not toxic mold experts.  We are simply a family that has opinions about toxic mold based upon our experiences with toxic mold and hours upon hours of research conducted in an effort to make our environment safe for our family.]

It seems as though we are not the only ones who suspect toxic mold as the possible true cause of death of Brittany and her husband.  TMZ has reported that the home is being investigated for mold issues and People magazine reports that the family spokesman, Roger Neal, released a statement concerning possible mold issues as such:  

"Due to the inferior products used by the builder and sub contractors, the Murphy home had a persistent leak problem," Neal says. "Simon Monjack [hired] an attorney and filed a lawsuit against [them]. In October 2009, to insure the home was safe to occupy, the attorney hired a well-respected company to conduct a full inspection of the home which would include … checking for any possible mold."

Brittany Murphy's mother states that the home is not being investigated for toxic mold and calls these rumors "absurd".  Our opinion is that it isn't absurd to suspect toxic mold for the deaths of two young and otherwise healthy adults and that the leaks within this home should be thoroughly investigated for toxic mold...again. 

Time Lapse

We bought Reagan a simple video camera soon after he became ill. He was homebound at the time and unable to walk. He was such a frail 11-year-old that I carried him around the house. I remember his siblings pulling him on a blanket along the kitchen floor so he could film a “moving shot.”

Reagan’s camera went with him to hospitals and rehab units. He documented his visitors and his progress.

He spent hours learning the art of editing. He was alone with his spinning brain and found solace in his moviemaking. Unless the vertigo overtook him. His imagination, however, never faltered.

Neither did his dream of becoming a filmmaker.

Fast-forward 33 months, to the summer of 2010.

Reagan is 14 years old. He's taller than me and can now carry me. His head is no longer spinning. The ringing in his left ear is negligible. He missed virtually all of middle school and yet passed the 8th grade standardized testing for the state of Arizona.

His tragedy is slowly turning to triumph.

Video making is a daily part of his life now. He even has his own channel. This weekend he created a time-lapse video. Time lapse is a filmmaking technique that utilizes film frames to accelerate a naturally slow process. According to Wikipedia, “Processes that would normally appear subtle to the human eye . . . become very pronounced.”

The changes in Reagan over these months and years have been subtle. Too subtle at times. I have lost heart more than once.

I watched Reagan's video on Saturday night and wept. His progress was suddenly so pronounced.

I'm learning. The only way to live is one film frame at a time.

(One of Reagan's scars is the loss of hearing in his left ear. You'll see how he wears his headphones in this video.)

Coming Back Stronger

I confess I was more interested in talking with my friend than watching the Super Bowl this year. Had I known Chris was going to work on a book with Drew Brees, I might have paid more attention.

Chris worked on Drew's story during a low point in our recovery. He would emerge from his writing closet and encourage me with parallels between Drew's shoulder injury and our story. He would remind me how long it takes to rehabilitate a torn labrum, the part of the shoulder that dictates the ability to throw a ball. He also reminded me how long it takes to rebuild a city ravaged by a deadly hurricane.

"It's just like us!" he would say. "We're going to come back stronger!" Sometimes he would grab my shoulders, look into my tear-stained eyes, and believe it for me.

Chris is speaking this weekend. About the book and about our story. Here's an excerpt from his blog:

I’m going to talk about the parallels between my family’s story and the Drew Brees book. When I was asked to help write that and then went through the interviewing and writing process, I couldn’t help but think that God has a sense of humor and timing. What we went through with our home, our health, mold, and all the setbacks and bills, uniquely gave me the vision to tell Drew’s story. I'm still surprised I got to do it. There are so many better writers out there.

There were moments when I was talking with Drew when I just had to laugh. I couldn’t hold it in because the things he was talking about regarding adversity were things I had lived in a totally different way. In a sense, writing that book was my Super Bowl experience after what should have ended my career. God had a different plan.

I’m going to tell the guys tomorrow what happened to Drew. I’m going to rehearse what happened to us. And then I’m going to try and help them apply that to their own adversity, whatever that is. I believe God lets us go through these things to help make us stronger. But he also has another item on the agenda.

In Psalm 119 I was struck this morning by these verses.

67 Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I obey your word.

71 It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I might learn your decrees.

As hard as it is to see it this way, I’m grateful for mold. I’m grateful for the difficulties we’ve faced. What happened has brought me closer to God than I even wanted. In another verse it talks about God being “our portion.” I know that from experience, not just from reading it. And I've learned that when I have him as my portion, no one can take that away. And I have a future. And I have unlimited hope."

Timeless truth for anyone with a torn labrum, or a tattered heart.

Family Displaced by Mold

It is heartbreaking to see the number of families impacted by the devastating effects of toxic mold. Here's the story of one family struggling in Berwyn, Illinois.

Mold Displaces Berwyn Mom, Children

BERWYN, Ill. (CBS) -- It can grow just about anywhere and make you cough, sneeze and wheeze.

Mold is so bad in one suburban home that inspectors forced the parents and seven siblings living there to leave.

You can see it taking over the walls and other surfaces. The family was getting federal help to rent the place, but because it's unsafe, the program canceled their lease.

What will the family do now? CBS 2's Pamela Jones reports.

Genevieve Wilson-James and her husband have seven kids. Five of them suffer from severe asthma, an illness they say was made worse by black clouds of mold darkening the walls of their home.

"We're coughing and can't breathe, and the children can't breathe constantly," Wilson-James said.

From the outside their Berwyn home looks normal, but the family says water floods the basement every time it rains.

The Section 8 program allowed the family to rent the home and sent an inspector to take a look July 8. That inspector found the conditions "life-threatening" and gave the landlord 24 hours to remove and replace all the damaged drywall, plus fix the foundation.

"There was mold, and they also noted that there was some water seepage in the basement foundation, so those were considered life-safety issues," Housing Authority for Cook County spokesperson Lorri Newson said.

A Berwyn inspector said he found the same thing. His report listed mold even growing on a mattress.

Section 8 policy required the family to leave the danger immediately because the problems weren't fixed. A charity found room for them at an area motel, but their time here runs out in a few days.

"The 22nd, we're on the street. No one's going to take me and my husband and seven children into their house," Wilson-James said.

The landlord said the home only flooded twice this year during torrential rains and he was unaware of the mold.

He says his crews have cleaned it up, and replaced the drywall as of Friday.

Meanwhile, Housing Authority for Cook County found another potential house for the family. Right now, there are some 11,000 families renting under Section 8 in Cook County. In 689 cases, families were told to leave homes deemed dangerous by inspectors.

To view the CBS news article and accompanying video, click here.

Volcanic Eruptions

I had a horrendous week last week. A terrible week. I thought I was losing my mind.

In fact, I think I did lose part of it.

Surprisingly, whatever I lost, I’m glad it’s gone.

My mind-altering experience came in conjunction with a cold I caught from one of my younger kids. I haven’t had a cold in five years. My body was too sick to catch and fight a cold. Therefore, the sinus congestion was a good sign.

The cold hit me hard. It knocked me off my feet. I couldn’t function.

The hardest part was the accompanying mood disturbance.

Mood disturbance is an understatement. I began having outbursts and meltdowns so intense my kids ran for cover at the first sign of an eruption.

I now believe I was experiencing severe die-off. My body was fighting the cold virus; why not fight other bugs and fungi? In Chinese medicine, a cold is viewed as the body’s opportunity to do some “housecleaning.”

In the mold world, a cold is viewed as a healthy sign. A sign that mold is no longer winning the internal war.

I have a theory as to why my immune system rose to the occasion.

I recently completed an intensive brain rehabilitation program called The Interactive Metronome. (See this previous post.) I rented the program so that all nine of the kids could participate. The program was a struggle for each of us. Fatigue, rashes, and neck pain ensued. I experienced severe irritability following each session. My brain was clearly working hard.

I finished the 15 sessions and noticed some changes. I had a greater ability to focus, improved concentration, and my sleep was much more restful and deep. I even noticed a renewed hope and optimism.

Soon after completing the program, I began a more aggressive approach to my diet. Drawing on the GAPS diet protocol, I eliminated all grains and fruit, incorporating chicken stock and soup. I upped my levels of probiotic foods. I noticed an immediate improvement in my energy levels.

The brain rehab combined with the dietary change may have facilitated the onset of the cold. I can’t prove this. Perhaps the changes weakened my immune system and made me vulnerable to a cold. Our bodies only offer us clues when it comes to internal warfare. I’ve learned to embrace the mystery.

The angry magma that was oozing during the IM sessions erupted into outbursts and meltdowns. I burst into tears frequently, fell to the floor, and held my head. It felt as though my brain was exploding. “Nobody talk to me!” I begged. Something big was happening, and I tried not to fight it.

I let the tears flow. I asked Chris to reassure the kids. During one of the crying spells I held onto my head and said, “Something is coming off my brain and I can’t stop it!”

Profanity began to dominate my thinking. This lasted an entire day. (Later I read this can be a sign of heavy metal detoxification.)

Whatever happened ended abruptly only seven days after it began. I woke up the next day feeling weak, but different. Relieved. Lighter.

Since then I’ve had glimpses of life ten years ago, before we moved into our Colorado home. My head has been clearer. My kids have noticed.

Die-off is a critical part of the healing process. It’s difficult to predict and tough to control. When the die-off becomes severe, it’s best to back off on the protocol and ease back into it. Sometimes the only option is to hold on for dear life and just get through it.

Thanks to an indomitable immune system and a forgiving and forbearing family, I got through it.

Tips for Decreasing Toxic Load

The following is Part 2 of Dr. Lisa Nagy's article entitled "Household Mold and Marital Discord." Here she discusses ways we can lighten our toxic load.

Stay Well in this Toxic World

Even if you don't have mold in your home, do these things first to maintain or increase health:

- No perfume (read labels on body care products since many contain fragrance).

- Eliminate pesticide use at home and buy organic as much as possible.

- Change your detergent to one that is non-toxic and fragrance free.

- Three mainstays of living a non-toxic life:

 >> Clean Air

 >> Clean Food

 >> Eat organic when possible

- Rotate foods every four days to prevent or reduce food allergies and addictions.

- Remove foods from your diet that trigger symptoms.

- Clean water.

- Choose water filtered through coconut charcoal in stainless steel bottles or drink water delivered in glass bottles.

- Avoid water in plastic bottles since it increases our toxic load.

Self-Test for Sensitivities

Like LSD (an ergot alkaloid) or hallucinogenic mushrooms, many molds produce mind-altering chemicals that can permeate the entire home, including clothing and furniture. Assess whether or not the clothing, fabric or furniture is toxic by spending five days in another location in fresh clothes before returning home to your habitual clothes and furniture. If you are intolerant to the items, this will determine their toxicity and your possible environmental illness.

Chemical sensitivity is synonymous with food allergies. Self-test foods for allergy symptoms by removing suspect food from your diet completely for five days. On the sixth day, eat a lot of that food alone for lunch and observe how you feel in the following minutes, hours and days. For example, I get a massive headache to peanuts the morning after I eat them. Take the offending food out of the diet for two to three months, then reintroduce it once a week as tolerated. Observe cause and effect in your own home.

Say No to Mold

Homeopath and board-certified environmental medical specialist Dr. Doris Rapp asks people to evaluate what they recently ate, touched or smelled when a person or family member is feeling bad or misbehaving. These are the clues to figuring out your sensitivities and those of your family. Keep humidity low, below fifty percent, to prevent mold growth, and always address water leaks the first day they occur.

Toxic Exposure and Marriage

Dr. Lisa Nagy has a passion to educate doctors and medical professionals in the area of environmental medicine. Ten years ago Dr. Nagy became severely ill following a toxic exposure in her home. Trained in Emergency Medicine, Dr. Nagy searched long and hard to find help and hope. The following article appears on the Environmental Illness Resource website.

Household Mold and Marital Discord - Part 1
Do you have a toxic home and is it wreaking havoc in your relationship?
by Lisa Nagy, M.D.

Two factors that contribute to our overall health are genetics and our toxic load. Our toxic load is the totality of the environmental exposures any of us have encountered from the womb to the present day. Most diseases do not have a single cause, and the cumulative effect of our toxic load can create or exacerbate a long list of symptoms and disease processes. My personal experience and research have led me to believe that mold and mycotoxins at home or work (followed by pesticides and other chemicals) are the most unrecognized environmental exposures today.

As an emergency room physician, my training didn't include any of the teachings of environmental medicine that would later save my own life. My chemical exposure began in a New York City Hell's Kitchen apartment where I began waking up with headaches (a hallmark symptom of mold exposure), experienced rapid heartbeat and struggled to walk even to the car. Finally my hands were too weak to even massage my husband's neck. After leaving that apartment, I felt better until buying a Southern California home with a huge aquarium built into the living room wall, surrounded by a wooden shed. The previous owner had been deathly ill with a mysterious pneumonia, but I didn't see the potential connection between that illness and the imperceptible mold on those walls.

Depression, weight loss, confusion and psychiatrist visits followed by a diagnosis of adrenal failure led to cortisol hormone replacement; but still I had severe muscle weakness, an unrelenting rapid heart rate and a metabolic inability to produce cellular energy. I knew I was dying, but not why. Bill Rea MD, medical director at The Environmental Health Center of Dallas, determined the cause to be exposure to potentially lethal, toxigenic mold. Dr. Rea himself had developed chemical sensitivity from pesticides, leading him to study and treat, often successfully, more than 30,000 people over thirty years with environmental illnesses.

The National Academy of Sciences and others have reported that 15% of the population suffers from chemical sensitivity, 3% to 5% of whom cannot hold jobs due to their intolerance of substances like perfume, chemicals and carpeting. Spinal fluid analysis by Dr. Baraniuk in 2005 has linked chemical sensitivity to Gulf War Syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.

Men vs. Women and Chemical Sensitivity

Environmental illnesses (chemical sensitivity, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia) occur four times more often in women than men. Women are often dismissed because they simply 'look crazy' while in reality, they are toxic. The mental changes are related to: a lack of oxygen to the brain from inflamed vessels due to the poison they have absorbed, high adrenaline and low cortisol, a severely damaged autonomic nervous system and direct toxicity from whatever toxin is the cause (such as mold, mercury or toluene).

When a male-female couple has been exposed to toxigenic mold, pesticides from tenting or spraying, or other chemicals such as formaldehyde in new kitchen cabinets, women often experience symptoms first and often different symptoms than men. They have classic chemical sensitivity symptoms: "I am exhausted, depressed and sometimes frantic. But my husband does not find perfume, air fresheners and the detergent aisle of the grocery store offensive. Yet he is mean and belligerent, is losing his memory, his balance and has skin problems, but people think he is fine and that I am the fruitcake." For this they often separate.

Studies done by the military may suggest the reason for the inequality among the sexes in the chemical response. In a 1998 study, trichothecene exposure in female rats led to adrenal necrosis or death. Interestingly, giving females or neutered male rats testosterone prevented adrenal damage. This illustrates why men, with ten-fold higher levels of testosterone than women, have less incidence of fatigue, stress intolerance, allergy, inflammation and chemical sensitivity. It also points to the possible benefit of hormones, such as testosterone, being given to women with chemical exposure.

Why Horse Women are Crazy

In a pilot study, I found that horses, because they eat mold-containing hay and grain, have measurable amounts of trichothecene in their urine. When tested, the horses' sweat, as well as the horse dust also have measurable levels of this dangerous poison. I presumed that people who wash horse clothing (saddle pads and blankets) at home contaminate the laundry system because the dryer drum cannot be cleaned once contaminated by mold toxins. When I measured urine from women and members of their family who ride, I found cross-contamination occurs only if horse blankets and saddle pads are washed in the home laundry system. Many women who ride have mycotoxicosis to a mild degree, and they inadvertently poison their family members through putting their household and horse laundry through the same machines.

Part 2 of this article will be published next time.

Soul Searching and Abundance

Sometimes it's more painful to see the toxic mold that clings to the cellulose of my heart than the stachybotrys that lies behind a wall.

As we trudge along in the brutal summer heat, and as I ponder the reality that our road is a long one, filled with seemingly endless obstacles, I am reminded that health issues don't exclude me from the reality of my human, aching, selfish heart.

Tragedy doesn't entitle me to wallow in self-pity. Financial loss doesn't allow me to demand that the world revolve around me.

I am compelled to look at myself in the mirror. I must continue to discover what it means to love those who don't understand. Do good to those who judge and speak harshly.

If I give in to the voice of despair that knocks at my door daily, or allow my heart to shrink in the face of continuing challenges, then toxic mold will have won.

And I refuse to allow a parasitic poison to have the ultimate victory over my life.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10)

Chris had a book idea several years ago. Long before we ever heard the term "toxic mold." He found the idea just this week as he perused old files and notes. The idea? A book about adversity. And abundance.

Here are his notes:

I would first define abundance. It’s not material possessions or a big house, but contentment of the soul. Then, in each chapter, we’d look at Biblical characters who faced adversity (Joseph, Job, Paul), and compare those with modern-day believers who have had their teeth kicked in by life or the church or both.

The basis for the book is Psalm 66:8-12:

Praise our God, O peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard;
he has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.

For you, O God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.

You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.

You let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.

Abundance comes from the Latin word abundare, which means overflowing. More specifically, undare means to rise in waves.

As the waves of adversity continue to beat against the windows of our souls and I accept the reality that our weary bodies may never fully recover, I set my sights on a place where darkened hearts are made clean, prison doors are opened, and burdens are lifted.

A place of abundance.

I can't wait.

Listening to Our Nails

It wasn't until we left our home that I noticed the numerous white spots or white lines on our fingernails. When I say numerous, I mean 4 or 5 spots per nail. Multiply this by 11 people and we had an epidemic! Kaitlyn mentioned it several times while we were in the house, but I thought nothing of it. We had more urgent health concerns. The condition is known as leukonychia, a term derived from the Greek words leuko ("white") and onyx ("nail"). Leukonychia can arise when the nail bed is damaged. More commonly it is linked to a zinc deficiency or other underlying immune system issue. Since toxic mold wreaks havoc with the immune system, it's no surprise our nails were covered in white spots.

Rather than focus on a zinc supplement, we focused on the malabsorption of minerals that can lead to a zinc deficiency. This is one of many reasons I learned to soak grains before cooking them. Grains contain phytic acid, which interferes with the absorption of minerals. According to Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions:

Phosphorus in the bran of whole grains is tied up in a substance called phytic acid. Phytic acid combines with iron, calcium, magnesium, copper and zinc in the intestinal tract, blocking their absorption. Whole grains also contain enzyme inhibitors that can interfere with digestion. Traditional societies usually soak or ferment their grains before eating them, processes that neutralize phytates and enzyme inhibitors and in effect, predigest grains so that all their nutrients are more available. Sprouting, overnight soaking, and old-fashioned sour leavening can accomplish this important predigestive process in our own kitchens. Many people who are allergic to grains will tolerate them well when they are prepared according to these procedures.

Since more than half of all the immune cells in our body are in the gut, it made sense to focus on the digestive tract to restore some of our mineral deficiencies, including zinc. Some of us have eliminated grains completely from our diet.The good news is the spots have virtually disappeared. We do have a few remaining spots, including these three:

Nail picking and nail biting were also an issue in the house. It didn't occur to me that this was anything but a nervous habit. Until we treated the nails with an antifungal and the nails healed. As we continue to detox the habit sometimes returns, only to abate when we add the nail treatment. We have found success with JASON's Tea Tree Oil Nail Saver. I'm also partial to Healin' Hollers Anti-Fungal Salve.

I continue to marvel at the ways our bodies let us know when something is wrong.

And the reward that comes from listening.

Story Cards

In his book Coping with Chronic Illness, author Norm Wright suggests creating a card which explains the nature of your illness and its limitations. This can be a useful tool when interacting with family and friends. I have put such a card together and have found it helpful when a caring person asks, "What brings you to Arizona?"

My beloved blogging assistant, Sherry, helped with the design and production of our cards and now offers this service through her website, Parmelee WebWorks.