Here, Melissa Harrison, 28, tells the story in her own words.
G￼lancing around the house, I rubbed my baby bump and smiled.
‘This is our new home!’ I beamed at my little boy Travis, four.
After living far away from my family, public housing provider, Housing ACT, had assigned us a place much closer.
I was thrilled, especially as the birth of my twins was just a few months away. But as we settled into our new place, I struggled with nausea and tiredness.
Carrying Travis had been a breeze, but this time it was much harder.
It must be because it’s twins, I reasoned.
But after I gave birth to two beautiful girls, Kenley and Ivy, the symptoms got worse.
Mine and Travis’ asthma flared up and stronger inhalers didn’t seem to help.
Soon, both of us had eczema on our arms and legs too – something that we’d never had before.
I felt so sorry for Travis, who couldn’t stop scratching.
‘Try not to touch it love,’ I’d say to him.
After living in our place for a year, I was scrubbing some mould in the kitchen when I got a sore throat and struggled to breathe.
A few mouldy patches had cropped up in the house, but they seemed to wipe away without any problem.
I’d put in a complaint with Housing ACT so I hoped the issue would get sorted soon.
When I developed a chest infection a few days later, I went to the hospital.
‘You’ve got pneumonia,’ the doctor said. I was so shocked.
Where could that have come from? I wondered.
The twins’ dad, Dane, looked after the kids while I was admitted for two days.
But once I was back home, Travis started to develop a chest infection.
From there, our health spiralled out of control.
The twins were getting rashes and chest infections, while Travis and I suffered excruciating migraines.
He also started to get nose bleeds and chest and sinus infections.
‘It hurts Mummy,’ cried my little boy.
At one point, doctors thought he had leukaemia because his white blood cells were so low. I phoned my mum, Esther, in tears.
‘Travis might have leukaemia, I’m so scared,’ I cried.
‘Oh darl, you’ve got to be strong for his sake. Try not to worry until the results come through,’ she soothed.
When he got the all-clear, relief flooded me, but I was deeply concerned. If it wasn’t that, what is it? I worried.
In the past, I’d rarely got sick. Now I suffered chronic fatigue, vomiting and my hair would fall out in clumps.
‘I don’t understand what’s going on,’ I sobbed to Mum.
‘Why don’t you all stay with me for a bit?’ she said.
Spending a few weeks at Mum’s, I started to feel better and could see a huge difference in Travis, who was bouncing around and playing like his old self.
Everyone’s better, it’s time to go home, I thought.
But within a few weeks, I was at the hospital with pneumonia again and Travis was also sick.
My migraines were so bad I had an MRI scan, though the results came back fine. Maybe I’m dying, I worried.
Then, one day, I cleaned the house and wiped away mould that had grown on the windowsills and in the bathroom.
The next day, I started to experience the usual sore throat and respiratory problems.
At hospital, I was again diagnosed with pneumonia. And that’s when the penny dropped.
Whenever I cleaned the mould, I’d get crook.
After being referred to a lung specialist, I found out I was allergic to aspergillus, a common type of mould.
‘You need to stop cleaning it, it’s making you sick,’ he said.
So the mould continued to grow rapidly and the house had a damp, musty smell.
Peeling up the carpets, I found the floors covered with it. I was crushed with guilt. Travis and I had been poisoned by our home – even when I was pregnant with the girls.But despite constantly contacting Housing ACT, they told me to clean it.
When an expert came in, they found potentially toxic mould.
Documents showed mould levels in the carpet, walls and ceiling to be more than seven times higher than normal mould levels.
It was so out of control we were forced to sleep in the car to avoid getting sicker.
I’d leave the windows wide open – even though it was the middle of winter – and have the fans on full blast, but the mould simply wouldn’t budge.
We were desperate to move out, but a long waiting list meant it was a few months before we were finally given somewhere new.
As soon as we moved, everyone’s health improved.
In four years, I was hospitalised 160 times because of the mould and I battled eight rounds of pneumonia. I’ve lost so much money too because most of my furniture and clothes were ruined from the mould.And I suffer from anxiety, terrified our new home will grow mould too.
I’m sharing my story to warn others about how dangerous mould can be. I’m just so grateful that we got out before things turned worse.
Read more in this week's issue of that's life, on sale now.
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