Jonathan Lee Wright

Jonathan Colorado

Denver Post Article

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Fighting a growing problem

Sick Colo. man to lobby in Washington on dangers of mold

By Kieran Nicholson

Jonathan Lee Wright, shown in his camp near Estes Park, blames mold in his apartment in Salida for these symptoms: arthritis, diarrhea, severe headaches, chest pain and blurred vision. He now lives outside to try to recover from the maladies.

Coloradan Jonathan Lee Wright now calls the great outdoors his home, not because of his love for the land or nature, but because he says toxic molds forced him from his apartment.

Wright, a professional photographer who has put his career on hold, is scheduled to speak Wednesday in Washington, D.C., to draw attention to mold and the health problems it causes.

For Wright, recovering from “mold toxicity” means living outdoors to prevent further exposure and to allow him to recharge his weakened immune system.

“I will do anything to get over this,” Wright said recently at a campsite in Roosevelt National Forest near Estes Park.

Since becoming ill in June 2000, Wright has suffered from arthritis, diarrhea, severe headaches, chest pain, liver pain, blurred vision, fatigue, numbness, tremors, hives and rashes, he said.

Wright first became ill when he lived in a Salida apartment. He moved out after seven months, but his health problems continued. After numerous doctor visits and his own research, he said, he believes he suffers from a severe reaction to mold.

In recent years, extreme mold cases have been reported in more humid states, but molds are also showing up in relatively dry Colorado.

Molds form and grow in water-rich environments, such as bathrooms that aren’t properly ventilated and buildings that have extreme or long-term water damage.

The Tri-County Health Department, which serves Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, fields about 3,000 calls a year from residents concerned about mold.

“We see a lot more concern about mold,” said Chuck McCammon, a certified industrial hygienist who works for Tri- County.

Typically the department advises people on remediation efforts, which focus on cleanup and getting rid of the moisture source.

Last month, mold forced 640 students out of Elizabeth Middle School in Elbert County and into another building.

District officials decided to close the school as a precaution after some teachers complained about headaches.

Dr. Karen Pacheco, an occupational allergist with National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, said medical studies link molds to specific illnesses, such as asthma and inflammations of the lung, nose and sinus.

But she said she isn’t convinced that mold exposure can cause wider, long-term illnesses such as Wright’s.

Wright and others, however, are going to Washington in hopes of influencing future legislation by persuading Congress that molds can be deadly.

Dr. Simone Sommer, a medical doctor from Greensboro, N.C., agrees there are a number of people, such as Wright, who have suffered debilitating illnesses.

“There are cohorts of people who have been exposed in schools, homes and the workplace,” said Sommer, a member of the Mold Advocacy Prevention Education and Research coalition. “There needs to be more research.”

A study released in May and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did recognize an “uncommon ailment known as hypersensitivity pneumonitis” associated with mold exposure in “genetically susceptible people.”

Wright puts himself in this group.

He has washed and scrubbed most of his belongings and locked them in a storage facility and says he is about 90 percent healthy now.

Before getting sick, Wright was an adventure sports photographer who specialized in mountain climbing shots.

“I lived the most active lifestyle,” he recalled. “But I went from rappelling … mountains to being terrified by what was in my storage locker.”

*

Here is a testimony made by Jonathan Lee Wright in a speech given before the US House of Representatives during a staff press briefing supporting Mycotic Disease Awareness Week on September 21, 2004. 

I AM HERE TODAY TO ASK FOR YOUR HELP. WE NEED TO RAISE AWARENESS IN THE MEDICAL PROFESSION AND IN OUR GOVERNMENT ABOUT “TOXIC MOLD”. I AM AN AFFECTED PERSON. THIS IS MY EXPERIENCE.

IN JUNE OF 2000, I MADE THE LARGEST SINGLE MISTAKE OF MY LIFE. I RENTED A BASEMENT APARTMENT IN A HOUSE THAT WAS APPARENTLY FULL OF PATHOGENIC MOLDS. THE EFFECTS OF EXPOSURE TO THIS HAS CHANGED EVERY ASPECT OF MY LIFE.

SINCE MY EXPOSURE, I HAVE ENDURED 4 YEARS OF INTENSE SUFFERING AND DEBILITATING HEALTH PROBLEMS. I’VE HAD CRIPPLING ARTHRITIS IN MY EXTREMITIES, CONSTANT DIAHRREA, MIGRAINE HEADACHES, CHEST PAIN WITH HEART ARRHYTHMIAS, LIVER PAIN WITH DARK URINE, BLURRED VISION, MENTAL IMPAIRMENT THAT MAKES EVEN READING DIFFICULT, CRUSHING FATIGUE, NERVOUS SYSTEM EFFECTS, NUMBNESS AND TREMORS IN MY EXTREMITIES, HIVES, BRUISING AND RASHES.

THIS IS NOT AN ALLERGY.

I HAVE CONTACTED SEVERAL DOCTORS. DESPITE MY CONCERN THAT MY SYMPTOMS WERE CAUSED BY MY EXPOSURE TO TOXIC MOLD, I WAS TOLD THERE WAS NO BASIS FOR THIS ASSUMPTION WHATSOEVER.

I HAVE SINCE HAD BLOOD TESTING DONE BY SPECIALISTS THAT SHOW AM WILDLY REACTIVE TO THE TOXINS FROM CERTAIN MOLDS. HOWEVER, THESE TESTS ARE ACCEPTED BY ONLY A MINORITY OF TRADITIONAL DOCTORS.

I HAVE BEEN ABLE TO AVOID CONTINUED PROBLEMS WITH INDOOR MOLDS BY TAKING THE EXTREME STEP OF ABANDONING MY HOME, AND LIVING OUTDOORS ALMOST FULLTIME FOR THE LAST TEN MONTHS, CAMPING THOUGH A WINTER IN NORTH AMERICA.

I AM LUCKY, BECAUSE I HAVE RECENTLY GOTTEN ALMOST COMPLETE REMISSION OF SYMPTOMS THROUGH THIS “EXTREME MOLD AVOIDANCE” LIFESTYLE. WHEN I’M HEALTHY AND IN A NON-REACTIVE STATE I CAN ENGAGE IN VIGOROUS ACTIVITIES LIKE MOUNTAIN BIKING AND ROCK CLIMBING. BUT WHEN I’M AFFECTED BY EXPOSURE TO MOLDS, I HAVE DIFFICULTY WALKING WITHOUT PAIN.

I’M NOW SO SENSITIVE TO INHALING MINUTE QUANTITIES OF INDOOR MOLDS THAT I CANNOT TOLERATE BEING IN MANY, IF NOT MOST, BUILDINGS AND RESIDENCES IN COLORADO. THIS HAS HAD A HUGE IMPACT ON MY LIFE, AND HAS CAUSED THE SLOW DECONSTRUCTION OF MY HEALTH, WORK, RELATIONSHIPS, AND FINANCES.

PRIOR TO MY DISORDER, I WAS A WELL-PUBLISHED PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER, WITH A SPECIALTY OF ADVENTURE SPORTS. I FELT FULFILLED IN MY CONTRIBUTION TO THE PROMOTION OF HEALTHY LIFESTYLE THOUGH MY IMAGES.

HOWEVER, SINCE MY OVEREXPOSURE TO MOLDS, I AM NOW FACED WITH THE REALITY OF LOSING MY HOME, POSSESSIONS, AND EVEN MY STATE OF RESIDENCE, BECAUSE I AM CONSIDERING MOVING TO ANOTHER REGION TO TRY AND OUTRUN THIS.

I HAD TO LEARN EVERYTHING I COULD ABOUT MOLD IN ORDER TO SURVIVE. IN DOING SO, I HAVE FOUND MANY OTHER PEOPLE WHO HAVE ARE EXPERIENCING PROBLEMS LIKE I HAVE AFTER BEING EXPOSED TO MOLDS.

MANY OF THESE ARE CHILDREN AND THE ELDERLY. THEY CANNOT LEAVE THEIR HOMES AND GO LIVE OUTDOORS LIKE I DID TO GET BETTER. AND THEIR DOCTORS DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT’S WRONG WITH THEM. BY AND LARGE, THE MEDICAL COMMUNITY SEEMS TO BE UNABLE OR UNWILLING TO ACKNOWLEDGE THIS DISORDER.

I CONVEYED THE CONTENT OF THIS MESSAGE TODAY TO EVERY RELEVANT OFFICE AND AGENCY IN MY STATE. DESPITE WHAT I CONSIDER TO BE A PRETTY ALARMING MESSAGE IN LETTERS AND CALLS TO CITY PLANNING OFFICES, COUNTY HEALTH AND ZONING DEPARTMENTS, THE STATE BOARD OF HEALTH, BOTH OF MY STATE SENATORS, MY STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL, AND MY GOVERNOR — ALL HAVE EITHER REFERRED ME ELSEWHERE, OR HAVE IGNORED MY CRIES FOR HELP ENTIRELY.

MY EXPERIENCE TELLS ME TOXIC MOLD IS A PUBLIC HEALTH THREAT THAT MUST BE ACKNOWLEDGED AND ADDRESSED BY THE STRONGEST POSSIBLE MEASURES. HOWEVER, THERE IS EVIDENCE THAT THERE IS PARTISAN EFFORT BEING MADE TO DISCREDIT THOSE SICK WITH THIS DISEASE, AND TO DISMISS THE EXISTENCE OF THE ISSUE ALTOGETHER. IF ALLOWED TO CONTINUE, I FEAR DISEASE FOR THE PUBLIC AT LARGE.

MY EXPOSURE TO TOXIC MOLD AND MY CONTINUED SENSITIVITY HAS CHANGED MY LIFE, AND NOT FOR THE BETTER. SO I HAVE TRAVELLED ACROSS THE COUNTRY TO ASK FOR YOUR HELP.

WE MUST CHANGE OUR GOVERNMENT’S AWARENESS AND RESPONSIVENESS TO THIS NATIONAL HEALTH EMERGENCY. WE MUST DO EVERYTHING WE CAN TO HELP THOSE WHO ARE AFFECTED AND PREVENT OTHERS FROM BEING EXPOSED, BECAUSE THE NEXT PERSON WHOSE LIFE IS RUINED COULD BE YOU, OR SOMEONE YOU LOVE.