Mold in Mercer County home linked to child's illness
COCHRANTON, Pa. -
Reading has always been something 16 year-old Collette Biggs has enjoyed. Although, over the years, it has gotten more difficult for her to do.
"Sometimes I wake up with a headache. Sometimes it goes away within an hour. Sometimes I wake up and it stays all day," said Collette Biggs.
Headaches have plagued Collette for much of her life. However, they aren't the only health issue she's faced in the past 14 years. She's experienced rapid weight gain and rapid weight loss. When she was younger she use to complain of her legs aching. She's visited with urologists for bladder issues. Regularly, she is faced with memory loss and severe neck pain. Her eyes will get puffy and sometimes she has trouble breathing.
All of those symptoms made it difficult for Collette to concentrate in school. She dropped out of public school in the 8th grade. She was able to finish some of the 9th grade at home. Although, she should be in 11th grade. However, she's on medical leave from school.
"Earlier on I was very angry, very depressed, very frustrated. I felt like everything was being taken away from me as far as not being well enough to go play soccer or go to school and do school like everyone else. It was really hard. It was really depressing for about three years. I spent a lot of time in my room cry and I lost a lot of socializing with a lot of people and things like that," said Collette Biggs.
Until this past summer, doctors were never really able to pin point a cause of Collette's symptoms. She was referred to psychologists and psychiatrists. Her parents even questioned her at times over the years.
"She would say to me when we would come out of a doctors appointment, after they sat there and said, 'There is nothing wrong with her. She is making all this up,' she would look at me and say, 'Do you believe me?" said Collette's mother Jennifer Biggs. "I told her that I did believe her. I didn't know what was wrong, but we wouldn't quit looking for answers until we found them and I didn't know how long that was going to take, but we would continue to look and so that is what we did. We weren't expecting the answer that we got."
This past July, the Biggs family consulted with a group of 32 doctors, nine of whom suggested Collette may be suffering from a mold related illness due to her exposure to toxic mold in the family's home. The house, which sits outside of Cochranton, Pennsylvania, was built in the 1800's. The Biggs family says mold experts believe the mold formed in the basement of the home, which has a dirt floor basement, and spread throughout the home after being sucked into their furnace. Years ago, the family spent more than $100,000 to renovate the home. At that time, the family found mold in the walls, but had it re-mediated.
Since learning of Collette's diagnosis, the family has decided to walk away from that home and leave most of their belongings behind. Experts have warned them the toxic mold particles are most likely on their furniture and in the fibers of their clothing.
"It has been a roller coaster ride. There has been moments of extreme joy that we have an answer, we know what is wrong, we can start working on fixing it. There has been a lot of people that we never dreamed would step along side of us to encourage us, to offer support various things that we needed, but there have also been some very deep valleys," said Jennifer Biggs.
This past summer blood tests confirmed Collette had more than 9000 times the typical amount of antibodies against mold in her body. Dust tests also confirmed the home contained hazardous levels of toxic mold. While the family will eventually tear down their home and burn it, they're working now to get Collette well.
However, because this area of medicine is relatively new and not all doctors believe in it, Collette is being treated by a specialist New York City, who believes Collette developed fungal infections from mold particles in the home after falling ill with pneumonia as a baby.
The doctor's approach, which includes anti-fungal drugs and supplements to help boost Collette's immune system, seems to be working. For the first time in 14 years, the family is noticing improvement in Collette's health.
"A good day for me is probably a not so good day for someone else," said Collette. "I have hope that things are going to get better. I have hope that I have a lot ahead for me in the future that is good."