Our family of eleven unknowingly moved into a home ridden with toxic mold. As our health deteriorated, we slowly uncovered the truth about the connection between health and the indoor environment.
The following timeline chronicles our family’s encounter with toxic mold, the vacating of our Colorado home, and the events of the following year.
Our Toxic Mold Exposure
June 2000. Chris, our eight children, and I move from a small 1,800-square-foot home in suburban Chicago to an expansive, relatively new 5,500-square-foot home in Monument, Colorado. We choose Colorado for its beauty and proximity to Chris’ writing colleagues.
June 2001 through May 2007. Our ninth child, Brandon James, is born in June 2001. We begin to see some medical issues arise. Our oldest daughter develops a severe nut allergy. Our fourth daughter is diagnosed with complex partial seizure disorder. Other problems arise in the family, such as mild hearing loss, heavy menstrual bleeding, rashes, nickel allergies, swollen adenoids, and a dog with diabetes. We make no association with our home.
April 2007. Our 11-year-old son, Reagan, has a skin biopsy for a mysterious rash in the form of small bumps on his elbows and other joints. A dermatologist cannot diagnose the cause.
May 9, 2007 (the day before Mother’s Day). In the process of preparing for carpets to be cleaned in our downstairs level, I notice a brown spot in the corner of our oldest daughter’s room. It is located directly behind a bathroom. After uncovering the spot and cutting into the wall, we discover black mold. (We learn much later that cutting into the wall caused the spores to be released, thereby putting the family at risk.) We call a mold remediation team to diagnose and treat it. They do not wear masks and do not ventilate the contaminated air. They assure us there is no risk or danger. We believe them. (Fourteen months later I would read: “Remediators who are not wearing any face, mouth, hand, or body protection in the midst of visible mold or moldy odors are untrained and should be asked to leave. You will be hurt by their lack of training.”)
June 26, 2007 (seven weeks from the date of exposure). Our seven-year-old son, Colin, is diagnosed with type 1 juvenile diabetes. Research suggests a “toxic trigger” for onset. Colin slept in a room with little to no ventilation, which could explain his predisposition to diabetes (with toxic fumes in the home). His adenoids became swollen soon after moving to Colorado. One website explains, “Usually, enlargement of the gland indicates increased working of the gland, i.e. reaction towards the disease or infective agents (bacteria or viruses or fungi).” With no family history and little experience with medical issues, we are launched into a new world.
July 2007. We learn from our insurance company that slow leaks and mold are not covered.
September 11, 2007. Reagan calls from school to say his ear is ringing. I take him to a top neurotologist in Colorado Springs.
October 1, 2007. Reagan’s ear ringing is debilitating. An MRI and blood work are scheduled.
November 1, 2007. Reagan wakes up dizzy. No doubt the sugar from Halloween has triggered the escalation of his illness. A few days later he is up all night with vertigo and vomiting. His last day of sixth grade will prove to be October 31.
November 6, 2007. We seek a second opinion at Children’s Hospital in Denver. Because of the severity of the vertigo attacks, we are admitted to the emergency room. The senior neurologist determines there is nothing neurologically wrong. ENT doctors at the hospital are mystified.
November 10, 2007. As Reagan’s violent vertigo continues, the neurotologist gives the diagnosis of Meniere’s disease and performs shunt surgery. Reagan recovers well and begins vestibular rehabilitation as walking has become labored and arduous.
November 22, 2007. Reagan’s vertigo returns with a vengeance. Phenergan and valium are prescribed. We are now carrying Reagan as his balance is clearly disturbed.
November 28, 2007. Reagan is admitted to the hospital for an injection of gentamicin with the hope of killing the eighth nerve on the left side. Following surgery, he is admitted to the rehabilitation unit at Memorial Hospital, as he is only able to walk with the help of a walker. His balance is restored on day seven. He is perpetually dizzy and crying at night; the dizziness is extremely intense. The rehab people seem mystified that he is chronically dizzy. The rehab doctor assumes it must be psychological.
December 7, 2007. Reagan comes home from the hospital. The vertigo returns within days. He is perpetually dizzy 24 hours a day, awake until two a.m. most nights until exhaustion overtakes him. I have to hold him and sing to him until he finally falls asleep.
December 21, 2007. A second gentamicin injection is given through outpatient surgery.
December 22, 2007. Reagan’s vertigo intensifies.
December 25, 2007 (Christmas Day). Reagan is terribly dizzy. He bangs his head against the couch to try to get rid of it. He’s trying to cope with the lack of progress.
January 3, 2008. The neurotologist says Reagan needs tough love. I sense there is nothing more he can do.
January 2008. Our son with diabetes, now eight years old, continues to complain of headaches and blurred vision. He says he sees double. After complications from diabetes are ruled out, glasses are prescribed.
January 2008. I notice unusual rashes on our six-year-old son, Brandon.
January 2008. I call an environmental hygienist in Denver and talk with him at length about my children’s illnesses and the mold remediation in May. He does not believe the illnesses are related to last year’s exposure. He is aware only of respiratory illnesses related to mold. He says we would be wasting our money to have our air tested. He comments on the fact that the remediation team wore no masks. He calls it poor business practice and unprofessional.
February 2008. Our 10-year-old daughter Kaitlyn continues to complain of headaches, double vision, and dizziness. She has difficulty riding in the car. The optometrist diagnoses her with convergence insufficiency and diplopia. I take her for three other opinions, including an ophthalmologist, who concurs with the optometrist’s diagnosis. All agree she needs vision therapy, so we begin a home therapy program. She is clearly debilitated and is asking to come home after just three hours of school.
February 13, 2008. VNG (eye movement) testing for Reagan shows the left ear has recovered to almost normal caloric activity. This is amazing in light of the toxicity of the gentamicin drug. Meniere’s disease appears unlikely. Reagan’s hearing in the left ear returns to the level it was on September 11. The Denver neurotologist introduces the idea of migraine. I feel a need to pursue another opinion as this is an entirely new idea.
March 3, 2008. Through an e-mail to the University of Michigan, the head of the vestibular department at the Mayo Clinic hears about Reagan and calls me. He tells us that we created a separate vestibular disorder with the gentamicin, and we are in truth dealing with vestibular migraine with some adult presentation. We begin pertactin and watch for trigger foods and other common migraine issues, including weather changes and light sensitivity. Reagan’s vertigo begins to make sense. But we are still not linking any of this to the mold exposure in May.
March 2008. Colin complains of abdominal pain. A stomach X-ray shows that something is clearly creating a disturbance in his intestine.
March 2008. Kaitlyn worsens. We begin vision therapy in Denver in hopes that the convergence issue will resolve, and her symptoms will dissipate.
March 2008. Our 17-year-old son Ryan’s acne has become severe. He has experienced chronic cold/sinus congestion/sore throat since February.
April 2008. Kaitlyn is unable to return to school. Her motion sickness and vertigo are escalating. We see a dramatic shift in her personality. She is negative and irritable. She lies on the floor many nights and says she wants to die. The vision therapist notices a major head tilt in Kaitlyn and suggests that there may be more going on than the convergence issue. He advises us to see a chiropractor.
April 2008. Colin complains of numbness in his right hand and has significant rashes on both hands. The blurry vision and headaches continue. The abdominal pain continues. He cries at night, asking if he will feel like this forever since diabetes is forever. We see a gastrointestinal specialist. He suggests stress but agrees to do further testing. Colin leaves school early most days.
April 2008. Our six-year-old son, Brandon, complains of blurry vision and abdominal pain. His teacher sends home a note saying he appears to be frequently urinating. Brandon is diagnosed with dysfunctional voiding. A stomach X-ray shows he is constipated.
April 2008. I become extremely fatigued and develop ringing in both ears. My menstrual cycle has ceased abruptly with no warning; I assume this is due to the stress of these last 11 months. I also begin to notice some memory issues but quickly dismiss them.
April 2008. A pediatric neurologist at Children’s Hospital in Denver skeptically prescribes Topomax for Reagan’s migrainous vertigo. With no family history of migraine, he expresses disbelief that a child can be dizzy 24 hours a day. With this lack of support, I decide to pursue alternative/natural care. Reagan is suffering with each weather change. Because of this and Kaitlyn’s head tilt, I consider a chiropractor with a head/neck specialty.
April 25, 2008. I reach the point of desperation and despair. Chris is doing his best to continue to pay the mounting bills. Three children are out of school completely and are not improving.
May 10, 2008 (the day before Mother’s Day). Colin notices discoloration in his bedroom ceiling. Unaware of the dangers of mold exposure, we cut into the floor area around the master bedroom shower area and notice a mold-like substance. Making no connection between our children’s illnesses and the previous mold situation, we call the same remediation team. They begin to work the same day.
May 16, 2008. I become increasingly uncomfortable with the remediation process. The workmen still wear no masks. Black mold is visible in the room where we are sleeping. The owner of a second remediation company comes to review the work. He is shocked at the fan that is recirculating contaminated air through the house. There is no ventilation, and black mold is clearly exposed. We call the hygienist and schedule air sampling for the following Tuesday. We tell the remediation company to remove their equipment immediately. They assure us that our air in the affected areas is the cleanest in the house. Once again we hear from the insurance company that mold and slow leaks are not covered.
May 2008. Reagan is suffering massive nosebleeds each night.
May 2008. Chris experiences numbness in his right hand and lower arm.
May 21, 2008. After a natural treatment for detox, Colin becomes feverish and gray in color. He begins vomiting. His fever climbs to 104 degrees. He is visibly shaking. Diarrhea begins. This continues for the next four days, and there is a black substance with each bowel movement. By the fifth day, his abdominal pain has subsided. The numbness is gone, and his vision has improved.
May 22, 2008. The hygienist calls with the results of our air samples. The lower level of the home has a reading of 120 mold spores. The count outside our house is 790. The count in the boys’ room is 293,000. Of these spores, 207,000 are Stachybotrys and 86,000 are Chaetomium. The count in our master bedroom is 321,987. Of these, 250,000 are Stachybotrys and 71,000 are Chaetomium. The hygienist indicates he has never seen counts this high in either residential or commercial structures. The mold in this area of the house is significantly less than the area downstairs which was improperly remediated last year. The magnitude of last year’s exposure has to be much greater.
May 22, 2008. We call for an emergency remediation. The new remediation team recommended by the hygienist contains the affected areas and seals off the rooms by midnight. They are in full protective gear. We schedule carpet steam-cleaning throughout the house, and vent disinfection for the next week. Our clothing, linens, and bedding are put in sealed bags and are later disposed of. Neither the hygienist nor the remediation team suggests vacating the house.
June 2008. Brandon’s rashes diminish following the remediation. His frequent urination is improving. I learn that frequent urination can be a sign of a low MSH (melanocyte-stimulating hormone). Dr. James Schaller writes, “The most common cause of a very low MSH in my patients is exposure to biotoxins.”
July 2008. I begin extensive research on the subject of Toxic Black Mold Syndrome. I read this on the website Mold-Help.org:
“The most dangerous mold strains are: Chaetomium (pronounced Kay-toe-MEE-yum) and Stachybotrys chartarum (pronounced Stack-ee-BOT-ris Shar-TAR-um) as they have been proven to produce demyelinating mycotoxins among others, meaning they can lead to autoimmune disease. Under certain growth and environmental conditions, both of these fungi release toxic, microscopic spores and several types of mycotoxins that can cause the worst symptoms which are usually irreversible such as neurological and immunological damage.”
July 2008. We continue taking detoxifying supplements. I read about the prescription medication cholestyramine, which has been proven to successfully bind biotoxins. I consider blood testing as outlined in Your Guide to Mold Toxins. But with the children improving, I decide to wait.
August 14, 2008. The children return to school. Two of the children become sick the first week with cold symptoms. This is disturbing, but I assume it is their compromised immune systems.
August 18, 2008. I obtain Colin’s blood tests from May 5 and look for evidence of toxic exposure. His gliadin IgG is high: a level of 105.6. Anything higher than 55 indicates positive for anti-gliadin IgG antibodies, which can occur after indoor mold exposure.
September 18, 2008. Colin gets a palate expander due to the mouth breathing that developed from the swollen adenoids.
September 29, 2008. I study Reagan’s blood tests from October 1, 2007, to search for clues to mold exposure as the cause of his hearing loss and tinnitus. (Vertigo had not set in at the time of these blood tests; they were taken four months after initial exposure.) His hemoglobin (Hgb) level was elevated at the time, as was his level of alkaline phosphatase (Alk Phos), which was 309, outside the healthy range of 37-250. Also, his potassium level was low, and his c-ANCA level was equivocal for antibodies. A re-test had been suggested by the lab but was not ordered by the neurotologist.
September 2008. Our dog Pippen seems unusually sick. His eyes are redder than they have ever been. Brandon becomes sick again with cold symptoms. I notice my tongue is black, my foot joints hurt, and three bumps have appeared on the second knuckle of my right hand. I take Ryan to the doctor for a herpes-like rash around his mouth. Brandon’s rashes are back, as are Colin’s hand rashes. Colin’s blood sugars become elevated.
October 4, 2008. I seek the counsel of toxicologist Dr. Jack Thrasher due to recurring symptoms. He explains the seriousness of the 320,000-plus spore count and warns that mold often hides behind walls and in crawl spaces. He advises us to vacate the home. We leave on Saturday night at 8:45 pm.
October 5, 2008. Chris and I take part in a conference call with Dr. Thrasher and leading environmental physician Dr. Michael Gray. They explain the seriousness of the spore count and the bacteria that synergize with the mold spores, creating a general contamination of the home. We throw away all remaining clothing and begin the process of creating a new, clean, environment. We find a new home with landlords who allow us to live there month-to-month.
October 25, 2008. Colin’s previous symptoms reappear. We wonder about recontamination of the new environment. Dr. Thrasher suggests chemical sensitivity. This commonly occurs in individuals exposed to high levels of mold; the detoxifying capability of the body is compromised, leaving it unable to cope with normal, everyday toxins such as pesticides, fragrances, carpet chemicals, etc.
October 29, 2008. Colin’s symptoms intensify. He complains of headaches, numbness in his hands and feet, pain in his chest and abdomen. He writes in his journal that he is the sickest boy in the world, and there will never be anyone who can help him. His hands are bloody from the rashes. I call Dr. Thrasher once again. He suggests bacteria from our contaminated house may have colonized in Colin’s nasal cavities and digestive tract. An X-ray reveals a mass in his upper left nasal cavity. We intensify probiotic and immune-boosting supplements.
November 2008. Reagan continues to suffer from migraine headaches, chronic dizziness, sore throats, and nosebleeds. Ryan still struggles with his rash. Kaitlyn asks to leave school due to headaches. Brandon complains of dizziness and nausea. I am struggling with memory loss and depression as well as a compromised ability to multitask. I sense the need to seek medical help through Dr. Gray in Benson, Arizona.
December 3, 2008. Our first appointment with Dr. Gray. UV light shows numerous fungal colonies on Colin and Reagan’s bodies. He finds polyps in their nasal cavities. He explains more about the reality of our mold exposure and long-term effects. I begin to think about relocating to Arizona to have the other children seen and start the intensive treatment protocol.
December 2008. Our three oldest daughters begin to connect their long-term symptoms with the mold exposure. All of them lived in the home at some point during and after the first remediation. Connections are made with symptoms beginning as far back as 2000. These symptoms include mood disorders, thyroid issues, anemia, memory loss, depression, inability to focus, rashes, sore throats, endometriosis, hair loss, and more.
January 2009. Five of the children and I begin intensive treatment in Arizona. Two more children join us mid-January. All 11 of us test positive for the presence of aflatoxins.
February 1, 2009. Chris drives a U-Haul full of mattresses and radio equipment to Tucson. We move into a furnished rental home with the hope of recovering as a family. Within hours, we have trouble breathing. Several of us develop rashes, and Brandon has three nosebleeds. Something is wrong with the home.
February 2, 2009. Most of us sleep outside. We hear from the home’s owner that pesticides were recently used for termites. We vacate the home and flee to a nearby hotel. We begin a search for a safe home free of pesticides and mold.
February 16, 2009. We move into a tiny three-bedroom home in a remote area of Tucson. The home is new and has never been sprayed. We buy air mattresses. Seven of us sleep in one room. We begin again.
February 17, 2009. We begin the regimen of nasal sprays, supplements, diet changes, and exercise. We consider staying in Arizona for another year.
August 14, 2009. We move into a larger four-bedroom home, determined to continue the rigorous work required to recover.
September 15, 2009. We receive mold testing results that show the new house is clear and safe for our family. We had done thorough testing upon learning of numerous plumbing/mold issues in the neighborhood.
October 4, 2009. It has been one year since we vacated our home. We reflect as a family on our progress and our remaining health issues. We look forward to using our knowledge to continue our recovery and to help others.