[This is Andrea Fabry's story, in her own words, compiled by me (Sarabeth) from various articles and posts on her website. I am most appreciative that she has given permission for her work to appear here.]
Our family, Chris, Andrea, and 9 children (ages 9-26), moved to Arizona in 2009 to begin a journey of healing following an exposure to toxic mold. Defects in the construction of our 5500-square-foot Colorado home had led to unseen water leaks and resulting high levels of stachybotrys, aspergillus, and penicillum. After two uninsured costly remediation, our health issues remained. We were advised to treat the home like a fire and abandon it and its contents in October 2008.
Losing our home, our pets, our prized possessions, and our cherished memories has been devastating. Recovering our health after ingesting high levels of mold and mycotoxins has been a slow and painful process...
Our remaining health issues include:
We take great care to stay in mold-free environments. Our chemical sensitivity that sprang from this exposure means we have a difficult time with fragrances. Headaches, burning eyes, and difficulty concentrating are immediate responses to any encounter with strong colognes, perfumes, heavily scented hair products, room fresheners, candles, etc. Cleaning products, pesticides, and herbicides also cause our bodies to respond in this way.
My 21 year old daughter's digestive tract was severely hit by the mold, and the GAPS diet offered a way to slowly heal and rebuild the gut flora and cellular structures surrounding the lining. I noticed an immediate improvement in my energy levels when she and I began this dietary protocol, which was followed by a severe period of die-off in both of us. This occurs when the fungi/viruses/bugs, etc. die and leave the body. It is common to feel much worse. I lost weight; She grew weak, pale, and feverish.
When the initial die-off passed for me, I suggested the GAPS introduction diet to the remaining 9 members of my family. It made sense: in order to halt the fungal cycle we must refrain from refined sugars in all forms. Green foods high in chlorophyll help wage this war, so vegetables are a welcomed food. In order to repair the digestive tract, it is critical that we stay away from any and all processed foods.
But I was overwhelmed. How in the world would I get everyone else on board with a heavily probiotic diet consisting of broth, soups, meats, veggies, sauerkraut, and specially prepared nuts and seeds? It didn't happen overnight, that's for sure. The diet felt too restrictive for the others in our family--almost out of the question.
Until my friend’s 5-year-old son had open heart surgery. He came through the procedure well, and in the hours following the surgery he could not drink water. I watched as his mom painfully dabbed water onto his thirsty lips.
Then it happened. I had an awakening. Water is a good thing. For the sake of her child and his fresh incisions, however, she held back until he was healed enough to drink.
I thought of my 10-year-old son with type 1 diabetes. What if we removed sugar in the form of fruit and grains for a period of time? What if this gave his body the opportunity to heal and stabilize in a way mold avoidance and whole foods had not?
If a doctor told me to take sugar out of his diet, I would listen. I decided to listen to my instincts.
My husband, my 10-year-old, and the remaining members of the family agreed to a one-month trial. Some had already experienced the healing benefits of the bone broth and were eager to move forward. And so we began in earnest on August 1st. We fasted on chicken soup for 24 hours. Nothing but soup for 11 of us!
Several members of the family had severe die-off responses immediately. One even vomited. Others felt intense sugar cravings. There were fits of rage. High levels of irritability. Rashes appeared in the days following the fast.
I kept picturing our little friend in the hospital. "Do the hard thing," I told myself. My husband and older kids agreed.
Then something amazing happened. For the first time in the three years since Colin was diagnosed, he went an entire day without a shot. His blood sugar stayed in range all day.
We’ve added more foods since that day. Some of our family members are sensing the need to stay with the limited bone broth/probiotic foods, adding avocado, different vegetables, specific oils, and wild-caught salmon. Others have graduated to seeds and salads. All of us are refraining from fruit and grains.
Our diet has yielded more benefits than I expected. We have found a new level of stability. Ironically, our life now revolves less around food and more around artistic endeavors. We have less conflict over food than ever before, and the kids have learned to enjoy foods I never thought possible.
Grocery shopping is surprisingly easier. No more agonizing over food labels. A quick run through the produce aisle is all that's needed. I order meat online or from a local rancher. Much of my shopping is done through a food co-op.
Here are some of the results we’ve seen
1. The daughter for whom we started GAPS found help. She developed a serious eating disorder while living in our toxic home. Numerous counselors were unable to help. We did not connect the toxicity to her struggle until a mold specialist suggested the connection. The drug/ supplement therapies helped but not like the nutritional therapy of GAPS. She is still on intro but for the first time in many years is experiencing relief from her nightmare. She enjoys modeling and hiking in the desert.
2. I lost more than 10 pounds initially. I had already lost weight while living in our toxic home so more weight loss was scary for me. At 5’9” I was down to 122 pounds. Size 2 pants were too big. I decided to put away my scale and keep going. I felt sure I was only seeing the truth of the malnourishment that had plagued me for years. I brought in more fats. I added coconut oil. I incorporated coffee enemas. I alternated them with probiotic enemas. Eleven months later I can say I have hope, feel better than I have in years, and have gained 12 pounds. I’ll never go back to my old diet. I don’t feel deprived in any way and am happy to stay with this for the rest of my life.
3. Our 11 year –old son with Type 1 diabetes now uses 75% less insulin than he did when he was initially diagnosed and on SAD (Standard American Diet). He eliminated all fruit and honey for 6 months and now only has small amounts of strawberries with kefir. We also incorporated some sprouted almonds mixed with coconut for an energy bar as well. This combination keeps him satisfied and stable. I believe that the sugars and carbs kept his body and mind focused on food. He was constantly thinking about his next meal or snack. The withdrawal he experienced from carbs was horrific. Voices in his head, nightly tantrums were with us for many weeks. It did pass eventually and now I have to stop him from playing to remind him to eat!
4. My 23 year-old daughter has been compromised since birth. She could have easily been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder but because she was so high functioning I didn’t see it. We moved into our mold infested home when she was 13 and her health steadily declined. A missions trip to Africa in 2006 was the final straw as she almost lost her life to malaria. The detoxification process has been horrific for her. We have struggled to find stability for her as the healing foods cause her to react with severe depression and thoughts of dying. The key for her has been the animal fats. She says eating fats is feeding her body something she has been craving since she was born. The enemas have been the other key. When nothing else helped, an enema provided relief.
I have stories of each individual in our family. When one person is progressing, another is struggling, but each one of us knows that as a whole we’re getting better.
Before we became seriously ill, I leaned on fast foods and boxed dinners. Carry-out pizza was a weekly event. Learning to cook these healthy foods has not been easy. Tears and discouragement have been my daily companions. But after spending 2008 and 2009 in more than 30 doctors’ offices I am grateful to be driving my kids to activities rather than doctors’ appointments. I’m grateful to be creating medicines at home rather than standing in line at a pharmacy...
I battled numerous doubts as we embraced our new lifestyle. I've summarized these below and included some of my thoughts as I sought to sift through the truths that seemed to reinforce each doubt.
1. People will think I'm crazy.
People also thought physician Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis was crazy when he suggested that hand disinfection played a role in the health of birth mothers. The connection between the food we eat and our health seems equally obvious, but anytime we go against the tide we are likely to experience ridicule and skepticism. This is simply part of the journey, one which I'm willing to accept.
2. It's expensive.
I shudder to think of what we spend on produce and meat in a week. However, when I think of the money we're saving on doctor appointments, emergency room visits, and prescriptions, I cease to count the cost. We eat out less, spend less on fast-food stops and lattes, and enjoy a simpler lifestyle. I no longer measure our health by our grocery bill.
Colleen Huber, a naturopath, contends that eating organically is not necessarily more expensive. She did a comparison several years ago and found the two types of diet comparable. Her study can be found here: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2005/02/16/organic-f… .
3. It might not work.
I hope for complete healing for each one of us. But there's no guarantee. There's no guarantee no matter what decisions we make about anything. I'd rather try than not try. I'd rather take the risk of eating healthier foods than assume it would make no difference. It's been five months now, and I've seen so many benefits that complete healing would only be the "icing on the flax cracker."
4. There are so many diets out there. They can't all be right.
Some diets say juicing is good. Others say not. Some are vegan. Others are meat-based. Some are raw. Some are cooked. Some include sweeteners. Others do not. (Although I have yet to find any nutritional protocol that invites people to eat "unlimited" refined sugar.)
In my mind, this is one of the biggest hindrances toward altering our diet. This is where our intuition is a necessity. There is no "one size fits all" when it comes to diet. We're each unique, with our own specific needs.
It took me months to find a diet I felt worked for our family. I found it by trying different approaches. We constantly tweaked, adding in foods and taking them out. Each member of our family is different, which only added to the frustration. When I heard of the GAPS diet, I was shocked to see we were already eating the foods on the plan. Instinctively, I had been drawn to it.
We've embraced the GAPS diet. We weave in some of the Body Ecology, Specific Carbohydrate, and Paleo diets. We may change things down the road. I'm thankful we're trying something.
5. It will be hard on my kids.
It's also true that it may be hard on our kids to continue to eat sugar and processed foods. We can't protect our kids from pain, only do the best we can with the best explanation we can offer. If a child understands the reasons for the unusual foods, it can help. I try to find fun, creative alternatives for special occasions.
The night before we began our biggest diet change, we showed a clip from the movie Breaking and Entering. The movie is not kid-friendly, but one scene shows Jude Law sitting down to a dinner of chicken and vegetables. His wife explains the gut/brain connection and the role diet can play in restoring health to their ill child. The daughter throws a temper tantrum because of the missing ice cream. It helped my kids to see another family trying to improve their health through diet.
6. I might get sick.
Sometimes the body is so worn down it doesn't let us know the food we're eating is doing us harm. If grains, for instance, are perpetuating some of the bad "bugs," we often don't know it. When our body "wakes up" and we start feeding it healthier foods, toxins can die and create die-off symptoms, which are often worse than the general feeling of malaise we may have started with. There are numerous ways to get through the die-off, such as Epsom salt baths, activated charcoal, vitamin C, and many others.
If we're willing to get worse before we get better, we may enjoy a whole new level of health.
7. My food might not taste good.
This was especially difficult for me. I always had a healthy diet, free of sugars and processed foods (which still did not help me in my toxic home). But the sweetness I did have in my diet, I liked! I didn't want "bland" foods, let alone bitter or sour ones. I let go of my need for good taste and took the plunge. Sometimes I plugged my nose. I kept focusing on my goal of better health and reminded myself of the Chinese medical adage, "The bitter the better." Slowly, ever so slowly, my taste buds changed. I now eat sauerkraut, drink plain goat kefir, and drink bitter green juice. My kids do, too! We do use stevia to help with some of the foods, but my kids can drink the most bitter green juice in one gulp.
8. Extreme dietary restriction isn't necessarily a good thing.
It's a risk to embark on any dietary plan. In reality, we were already restricted by our food allergies and food intolerances. Once I accepted our limitations, I sought to find a diet that encouraged a well-rounded mix of vegetables, proteins, and fats. One that would help us heal so that we would be able to tolerate more foods. For some people, an extreme diet change is not necessary. Simply taking out refined sugars and processed foods can be enough.
But for those with severe illness, this quote from Hippocrates may apply: "Extreme remedies are very appropriate for extreme diseases."
Sometimes a strong message to the body can lead to a big change.
9. I don't think I can get my spouse or older children on board.
We can't control others, in any area of life. We can, however, do our best to educate and explain. We can lead by example. We can try. For our family, a slow transition worked better than an abrupt, unwelcome change. I introduced one food at a time and tried to find satisfying substitutes for their favorite foods. When I felt a more radical approach was necessary, I asked everyone to try it for 30 days. Thankfully, everyone agreed, and months later we're still "experimenting."
10. It will be difficult.
There's simply no way around this one. It is hard to change patterns. Food patterns especially. Good things don't come easily. There's no magic pill when it comes to health and diet. I miss the convenience of take-out pizza and fast food. But there's something gratifying and empowering about this kind of hard work. I see it every time my kids play football, or read, or laugh. Simple things we weren't able to do two years ago.
In summary, there are plenty of reasons to stick with the "old way". Plenty of reasons not to step out and try something new. I like this quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes:
“I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving: To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it - but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.”
How our story might help you...
It took us years to put the puzzle pieces together linking our environment with our health. It is my hope that our experience will help others make the connection sooner. Water damage in any structure must be treated with immediacy and caution. It is a common misconception that mold is harmless. While it's true that mold is everywhere, certain types of mold are hazardous and potentially life-threatening.
In short, the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breath matters. Awareness is critical if we are to protect ourselves, our children, and our children's children. I’m most thankful for the example and support of others willing to blaze trails in this area of health.
To read more about our family's story and follow our ongoing journey, visit my blog at www.moldrecovery.blogspot.com
Founder of Moms Against Mold (MomsAgainstMold.org)