Today’s article is a cautionary tale from a friend of mine who has done much to help other patients during her own battle with chronic illness. About five to six years ago, Bernadette, a mother of five, was finally diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Prior to this, she went through what so many of us experience – being told by her endocrinologist and regular doctor that her thyroid was fine despite the fact that she had doubts as to whether she would even survive her last pregnancy.
Two to three years later, she completely crashed and her doctor put her on hydrocortisone for adrenal insufficiency. Recently, she also received a diagnosis of Lyme disease. The first time I met Bernadette on the Facebook Hashimoto’s 411 forum (for which she is one of the moderators), it struck me immediately how knowledgeable and willing she was to share information to help other patients.
For months, Bernadette has been bedridden and unable to walk around. She has also been suffering hyperthyroid and panic attacks, which she describes as “extremely scary” and also comments on how “a tiny bit of hormone can destroy your life”. As knowledgeable as she is, she has tried treatment after treatment and felt like she was doing everything right and yet for some reason she would improve and then relapse … constantly. In an effort to discover the cause of this, her doctor suggested she take a stool test, which showed high levels of yeast and fungi (taxonomy unknown). This was most likely due to ingested mold and consequently her doctor recommended she get her house tested for mold back in October 2012. She let it go and it wasn’t until she ended up in the ER in February 2013 when her sump pump broke and overflowed her basement that she finally had the tests done.
It was then that she realized to her horror that toxic black mold (Stachybotrys aspergillus) must have existed in her house the whole time. This prompted her to look back at stool tests her kids had done years ago, which also showed high levels of ingested mold. And she also mentioned to me that the last house she lived in had a mold problem.
After the sump pump overflowed, Bernadette’s husband Steve cleaned up the water and used fans to dry the house. Unfortunately, this was precisely the wrong thing to do as this caused the mold to become airborne and spread throughout the house. At the time, Bernadette and her family had no idea because they couldn’t see the mold on their possessions or walls. As Bernadette puts it, “Having airborne mold was like the house was on fire because we had to get out right away. It was that toxic.”
Since this time, Bernadette and her family have been staying at a friend’s vacation home 2 ½ hours away, but they have to be out in a month. Her kids are worried and everyone is sick because of the effects of the mold, and the medical bills are spiraling out of control. As Bernadette explains, “Toxic mold suppresses the immune system and lowers your hormones. Some people just get asthma and cold-like symptoms, but I have more immune symptoms. I’m hyperreactive and have problems with food sensitivities. I also feel nauseous and suffer from panic attacks, anxiety and nervousness. I also cough a lot, have a super high pulse and suffer from low blood pressure. My daughter Mariah has been affected by yeast infections and fatigue, although I believe the detox and antifungal supplements she’s been taking have prevented it from getting worse. My husband, Steve, suddenly started getting depressed and moody for no particular reason. He is also affected by panic, depression, fatigue, nervousness and twitching muscles. Our youngest boy, Rylen (3), has eczema and mood issues. Mold also causes high gluten antibodies, so all of us tested as gluten sensitive. In general, it is very hard to stabilize Hashimoto’s when your immune system is constantly under attack by mold. As you can imagine, my adrenals have also gone into overdrive to compensate for the stress on my thyroid. It’s frustrating as the mold prevents anything from getting better.”
Looking forward, Bernadette and her family have been comparing quotes for remediating the mold. They are hoping their house will be safe to go back to, although most people leave their house and everything in it when faced with such a situation! There are companies who will take care of the mold problem in the house, but without cleaning the contents. One quote for this was $12000 and their finished basement with family room, laundry room, toy storage and daughter Mariah’s bedroom will have to be completely ripped out. The carpet upstairs in their bedroom has to go and they will have to wash and scrub the entire house from top to bottom after the mold removal. They have made sure that the cleaners used are environmentally friendly because they are all sensitive to harsh chemicals due to the mold’s effects on their immune systems. Anyone who owns their own home must realize how utterly gut-wrenching this is, but what is even more gut-wrenching is what will happen to the contents of their home.
They have had to find someone else to take care of the contents and remove it before the mold company comes in because anything left is thrown away. They have tried to save some stuff, but most things will be gone as so many are irrecoverable, particularly anything that is plush and porous such as bedding, couches, stuffed animals, etc. . Bernadette explains: “We will have to throw away 90% of our things and we need to determine whether the cost of paying someone to clean stuff is cheaper than buying stuff brand-new.” She goes on to say that two of her kids are home-schooled so they will have to throw away thousands of dollars worth of books, particularly as they are big readers. Bernadette: “The mold company will pack up the house, take it all offsite and clean anything that can be saved. It will cost $18,000. I went in on Wednesday with a mask and a hazmat suit, but I felt terrible so I can’t go back in the house. Right now I am really shaky and fragile.” Perhaps one of the hardest parts of losing almost all of your possessions is the sentimental value of some of them: “We are forced to put my kids’ stuff, our pictures and memories into storage because they can’t clean them. The kids’ drawings and photos will be gone because we can’t ever bring them back in the house and must store them away forever. It’s so hard going into the kids’ rooms because they don’t understand and it’s really tough on them. We also don’t have the help of our family as they are out of state and rather uncaring.”
Right now Bernadette and her family are afraid of what they will be returning to in a month’s time. They hope to get some flooring and beds in upstairs, but the whole house will be ripped apart – down to the shell in some areas. As Bernadette says, “I’m trying to stay positive. I want to declutter the house, but this is a bit drastic. At least we know now what’s been stopping my healing progress.”
What Bernadette has learned is that mold can affect any illness you can think of, including the hormones, and it can also cause autoimmune disease. Looking back, when she embarked on her Hashimoto’s journey, she remembers seeing posts from other patients who talked about how their Hashimoto’s was caused by toxic mold and so she can’t help but wonder if this was ultimately the case for her, particularly as she was diagnosed around the time they experienced mold problems in their first house. She also wonders if her daughter’s diabetes and psoriasis might have been caused by the mold contamination. Bernadette explains, “I hope that I can get better to be the mum again. This has affected seven years of my life and I never took it seriously until now. I am mad at myself, but you never think these horror stories will happen to you. My kids started getting sick and I missed out on so much. Right now I don’t have the strength to cook food and I can barely go to the bathroom without my heart pounding out of my chest. Mold issues mess with your nervous system.” Bernadette’s husband, Steve, stays home to take care of her and the kids, but she’s grateful that the kids didn’t get as sick as she did. At the time, she thought that all the problems were on and off due to other things and couldn’t figure out why, but now she knows that a classic sign of mold exposure is when treatments start working and stop working.
When I asked what final advice Bernadette would like to give to our readers, this was her answer: “If you have a mildew smell or musty smell (no matter how slight) in your house, never not take this seriously as this could be a sign of a much bigger problem. If you are chronically ill or your symptoms are not improving, this could be the mold. I’ve seen people say that mold causes their Hashimoto’s. Don’t dismiss it as a tiny problem. It’s better to check and be safe rather than sorry. Make sure you clean up water spills and leaks really well and know that it can lead to mold as mold grows in a matter of hours once it has the right moist conditions. If you think you’re doing everything right and you’re not making any progress, consider testing for mold and if this is a problem, make sure you hire a professional to remediate it. As my tale above shows, incorrect actions may very well worsen the problem.”
Last but not least, for anyone who would like to help Bernadette and her family, please follow this link to donate to a fundraiser Bernadette set up to earn money for the mold remediation and their masses of medical bills. Thank you very much!
Bernadette was also kind enough to provide me with the following links for those who would like to read more on this subject:
- http://www.mold-survivor.com/submenu1.html clicking on “Altered immunity & leaky gut” will show thyroiditis as one of the issues
- http://www.survivingmold.com/diagnosis/the-biotoxin-pathway – this one explains the effects of mold on the immune system