Feeling gravely ill, Lisa never imagined her own house was making her sick.
Here, Lisa, 47, tells the story in her own words.
H￼iking up a mountain in Malaysia, I stopped to admire the breathtaking scenery. ‘We’re so lucky to experience this,’ I beamed to my hubby Ian.
Every few years we took time off work, both sharing a mutual love of hiking. Training for months in the lead-up to our latest trip, at the age of 43 I was in the best shape of my life. Returning home, we moved into a new rental house in south-east Queensland. Then I resumed everyday life, working from home as an interior designer and architect. Wanting to keep up my fitness levels, I carried on running and cycling. But, after a month, my usual routines became strenuous.
One day, I was on a gentle bike ride when I suddenly became faint and extremely short of breath. Seeing my GP, he recommended I use a Ventolin inhaler to help me breathe easier. But a few days later I had a similar scary episode while just simply walking. ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me,’ I said. Then one day I was hanging out the washing when I felt an insect bite me. Over the next few days my heartbeat raced and I suffered flu-like symptoms. While lying in bed one evening, I let out a yelp after feeling an itch in my belly button. ‘What’s wrong?’ Ian asked, concerned. We were shocked to find a tick lodged in my navel! Wondering if the symptoms I’d experienced were from a tick-borne disease, I had some blood tests. Two lots of tests came back clear, yet my awful symptoms worsened.
My heart was beating rapidly, I was extremely fatigued and would often wake up in cold sweats. I suffered from sharp chest pains and my arms felt numb and paralysed, too. Feeling foggy, I lacked concentration and had also strangely become very sensitive to light and sounds.My health deteriorated so badly that for the first time in my adult life I was unable to work. Most days I was bedridden. Losing 20 kilos, I looked like a bag of bones.‘You can’t live like this. We need some answers,’ said Ian, worried.
Returning to my doctor, he investigated further. ‘Do you live in a mouldy house?’ he said. ‘No, I only moved in this year,’ I said, confused. During that time I’d never seen or smelt any mould. But just to be sure, the doctor ordered a urine test to check toxin levels in my body. The results were absolutely shocking. Tests revealed that my body had extremely high levels of mould mycotoxins, toxic substances produced by a fungus. Scared of what was lurking in our home, we immediately contacted an expert mould microbiologist to investigate.
Shockingly, mould levels were 37 times higher than considered hazardous.He discovered a huge amount of mould underneath carpet above my home office, where I’d been working every day for nearly a year. As Ian had been going out to work each day, he hadn’t been affected in the same way I had.‘Rain has come in from a roof gutter, down inside the walls, and across the floor under a carpet and into this room,’ the microbiologist revealed.We were told to evacuate immediately. ‘And I wouldn’t take any belongings with you – they could be contaminated, too,’ he said. I was given anti-fungal medications to treat aspergillosis, an inflammation of the lungs caused by mould spores, and the fungal infection candidiasis. Slowly but surely I started to feel better. We couldn’t believe the 1980s brick home had hidden a potentially deadly secret and riddled my body with such serious illnesses. If we’d lived there any longer, it could have cost me my life.
Leaving with just our wallets and laptops, we checked into a hotel for a week, before finding a mould-free home to live in. Over the following months my energy levels increased, I started to put some weight back on, and began to finally feel like myself again. Prior to getting sick, I’d been working as an interior designer and architect for over 20 years – and had no idea a building with mould could be so debilitating. So I started a four-year part-time course in building biology to understand the science behind why buildings can make us sick and how they can be better designed.I now help people detect and avoid mould exposure and design mould-free homes. Water damage and mould can be hidden away, easily covered up or painted over and, worse still, not disclosed by the house’s previous owners or landlords.
Fours years on, my health is now nearly back to normal. But I don’t want anyone to suffer the same fate as me. I still can’t believe my house was poisoning me!
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