Is your home making you sick? Do you suspect that Natural Gas exposure may be endangering your family or harming your health? Or are you just not sure whether Natural Gas could be the problem, and you need more information. Read on and see if you are experiencing the… er… hell my family went through caused by a slow natural gas leak in our home.
A Natural Gas Story
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Dream Home or Nightmare?
Is your home making you sick? Ours was.
We moved into our new home in May of 2003. We had been married 13 years before we were able to buy our first home. We were so happy. It was such a blessing to finally own especially since our last rental wasn't well maintained and the aging carpet and molding walls were taking a toll on my family's health. We had all developed asthma or allergies while living there and it was about time for a fresh breath of air.
The new house held promise. It was a conservative 1560+ square feet, but it was ours and it felt good to finally be putting our money into equity instead of a landlord's pocket. Friends and family helped us settle in. One friend gave us a new stove, one they had purchased but were not going to use; it was a step up from the one in the new house, so I gratefully accepted it. When it came time for us to move in, I asked my friend if he knew how to install it (he was handy at many things around his house) and he was happy to help once again.
We had no idea that both my ignorance of not wanting to pay a professional to install the appliance and my friend's lack of experience would result in years of slow-growing misery for my children, my husband and I.
After being in the new house about a year my son, Brandon, started having painful episodes in his upper abdomen particularly when he ate fried foods. We generally ate healthy meals but occasionally we would have fast-food as a treat. We took him to a doctor, but the doctor dismissed my son's symptoms as nutritional negligence and blamed me for feeding him fast food too often. I was frustrated because I was a borderline “health-nut” and I knew something more was causing these symptoms.
Brandon's pollen and food allergies grew increasingly worse. His stomach pains were accompanied by long bouts of nausea that would not subside. We visited a homeopath, a pediatrician, and a chiropractor/kinesiologist who treated allergies. All of them treated with different methods, but nothing helped. Our pediatrician took the time to review different environmental issues that could be causing Brandon's symptoms, but we could not solve the mystery. He encouraged me to keep going to the chiropractor whom he had heard had good results.
The chiropractor's treatments had helped my daughter's allergies in the past, but they didn't seem to help Brandon. I consulted with an allergy specialist who was also a toxicologist. She ran Brandon through 6 months of intra-dermal allergy testing, nutritional supplements and rotation diet. Nothing improved his abdominal pain and nausea. She ordered an ultrasound on his liver, gall bladder, and pancreas, but the results showed nothing. What had started out as seasonal allergy and abdominal problems were now constant and increasing. Brandon's symptoms continued to worsen.
Next I took Brandon to the best pediatric gastroenterologist in town. He did a thorough check up and noted that my son was overweight for his age. This had only developed since we had moved into the house. Even though I thought that it was unusual that Brandon's digestive processes took 3-4 days, the GI doctor found nothing significant and didn't ask us to return.
By now my daughters complained of stomach problems. They were having trouble digesting beef. The rotation diet helped give variety to our diet, but the girls did not look forward to beef night. After a few months they came to me individually, and reported that chicken was upsetting their stomach too. Not acid reflux, just the feeling of pain and discomfort, like the meat was not digesting well.
Not knowing where to turn next, I prayed. There were fewer and fewer foods Brandon could eat, his nausea never went away, and his abdominal pains were in the upper and lower areas. My daughters' allergies were worse, by now they couldn't digest most meats, including fish, and my husband and I were feeling poorly as well. Depression seemed to be pulling at all of us, yet we tried to find some joy in life.
Brandon struggled to make it through school, but it became evident that his stomach pain and nausea were too much. We applied for a home-based teacher for him in the fall of 2005. It was a difficult battle with the school district. We had no diagnosis for his condition only that he was chronic and that we were continuing to look for a cure. If we had only known that bringing him home to be schooled would make matters worse.
Progress after 2 Years
His newest doctor, Dr. M, was a medical doctor plus a homeopath skilled with many modalities of treatment, including allergies. Our hope was that Dr. M would be able to find something. And he DID find something. Brandon's blood work showed that he had a high red blood cell count, just like the in other tests done before. Apparently this was chronic. His white blood cell count was very high (eosinophils in particular), a sign of an auto-immune response that can be very damaging to the body if it is left unchecked. He had high cholesterol levels and his “good” cholesterol was low — strange for a 10 year old boy. He had eczema patches that would not heal with any treatment. By now Brandon would rate his main symptoms on a scale of 0-10 (10 being the worst). He reported his nausea to be around 7-8 and his abdominal pain around 5-7. This was so sad and miserable for such a young person to have to endure.
Dr. M taught us how to test all our foods, one by one, and eliminate them from our diet. We went to work testing everything and we resumed the rotation diet for the most questionable foods. Within 2 weeks Brandon's nausea went down 2-4 points and his pain 3-4 point on the symptom scale. We added digestive enzymes to all the children's meals and this helped too. Brandon's white blood cell count went down too. This was the first progress we had experienced in 2 years.
Brandon continued to have upper abdominal pain, so Dr. M ordered a HIDA scan on his gall bladder. The results were that his gall bladder was only functioning at 11%. This was the cause of the upper abdominal pain, and perhaps, some of his nausea! At last an answer!
We went back to the GI doctor. When he saw the test results, he discussed the option of surgery with us. And referred us to the 10th doctor we had consulted with, a pediatric surgeon. Though we knew that the gall bladder was not the cause of Brandon's entire problem, rather a symptom, we opted to have it removed in the spring of 2006.
Finding the Causes
Through out this time, I continued to try and find a cause of the sickness in our home. Even our dog had an upset stomach! We removed nearly all the carpet and replaced it with wood laminate or tile, we cleaned and sanitized the vents, filtered the water, switched all our cleaning products to the simplest, purest forms.
I read articles and books on the subject, and did the best I could to clean up our home's environment within a limited budget. I had the children's mattresses changed, and Brandon's headaches subsided. We switched to metal framed beds and futon mattresses instead of traditional foam. This helped the allergies too. We removed all plywood furniture from their rooms to avoid the formaldehyde.
Gas Inspection Solves the Mystery
One book suggested that Natural Gas could be a problem in the home. Around that time, my chiropractor suggested I investigate radon gas poisoning. That same week I ran into an old acquaintance. His wife struggled with asthma and we discussed the benefits of removing carpets. He told me they swapped their gas stove for electric because his wife reacted to the gas and couldn't cook with it. I had been considering this because my son and one of his sisters couldn't be in the kitchen when I was cooking or baking either.
Another acquaintance worked for the local gas company. He encouraged me to call the gas company and request a free inspection of my stove and other appliances. I was so happy to know that they would perform this service and I scheduled an appointment as soon as I could.
When the gas representative came, he inspected all our gas appliances and our fireplace. The stove had a leak from the fittings in the back. It had been installed with an incorrectly sized fitting. Sadly, my friend's good deed had gone wrong. It was a slow leak that had gone undetected for 3 years.
Modern homes are built to be air-tight: a wonderful convenience especially if you live in the desert southwest. A home that is tightly closed up when the temperatures creeps up over one hundred and ten is an important asset. The gas company employee pointed out to me that the vent over my stove was not a vent at all.
In Nevada, there are no laws that require home builders to install a vent over a stove. Many install fans and they look like vents, but they do not exhaust to the outdoors. My house was built in this way and the “vent” over my stove was really only a fan that re-circulated the stale, poisoned air within our home. The gas that leaked had no outlet, only the occasional opening and closing of an outside door. We had steeped ourselves in toxic natural gas for 3 full years!
As Brandon began to heal from his surgery, we grew in hope that he would continue to improve. Six weeks after the surgery, one of his wounds opened back up and was not healing properly. The surgeon's diagnosis was that he was allergic to the internal stitches. This was rare- in fact he had only seen it on one other person: himself. We also noted that Brandon would react to the adhesive on certain bandages. I tried the bandages on myself too and had the same reaction — an itchy rash. I had never experienced this kind of reaction before. It was a new development for my body. What had this gas leak done to us?
The GI doctor prescribed many nausea medications and none worked. He ordered scans and probes and tests, with no significant findings except slow motility. He prescribed stool softeners, but Brandon preferred to nibble on raw pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds and got the same results.
I had always been an allergic person, but in the last two years, I had added 10 new foods to my “Do Not Eat” list. This was a 500% increase in my food sensitivities! Brandon had 30+ foods on his list and his Dad and sisters' lists had grown as well. Any food that had been a minor sensitivity became a big problem. My daughter, Allison, developed asthma, which she had never had before, not even in the rented moldy house. Brandon and our oldest daughter, Erin, had both become so sensitive to chemicals that they could not walk into clothing stores or large marts like Target or Wal-mart without having a chemically sensitive reaction.
Smoke, car fumes, perfume, formaldehyde related products and chemicals set off reactions of nausea, headaches or fatigue in all of the children. Erin and Brandon struggled with insomnia and forgetfulness and “foggy”ness. My husband and I had problems with memory as well and Erin suffered with migraines 4-6 days a week. Allison fared the best of the children; she did not go untouched but she was an athlete and the strongest of the three girls.
The natural gas exposure had hurt us, but how? By what mechanism were our bodies being affected? I began to research everything I could find. What did the Vicryl stitches have in common with the poly-acrylates adhesives on bandages? What was happening to our bodies that was increasing our allergic sensitivities? Why was Brandon's gall bladder and intestinal tract becoming sluggish and dysfunctioning? Why were all three children having such difficulty digesting foods particularly meats? There were many unanswered questions and I spent hours searching and hoping to find a cure or treatment on the internet but what information I did find was find was minimal.
Healing the Body and Beyond
Armed with my new found knowledge, I set out to find a cure or at least a treatment.
That summer Brandon and the girls started to improve and we grew excited. He went back to school for the first time in a year. It was time for the fall pollens and for weeks smoke filled our sky from forest fires 200 miles away. He wanted so badly to be well, but his symptoms slowly returned. We all felt the effects of the smoke, like someone had zapped our strength. The girls and I broke out with hives which was a new problem. It had been 4 months since the leak had been found. Having Brandon improve and then regress was almost too much to bear. I pressed in harder.
Dr. M shared with me about new research findings regarding the brain and its neurological connection to the gastrointestinal tract. Recent research on persons with chronic constipation/slow motility showed a corresponding low intestinal neuron counts. This was a promising find. (research PubMed.com) I summarized my son's gall bladder and motility issues might be due to the toxic effect of the gas on his nervous system. I told Dr. M and he agreed, but there was no treatment for these conditions.
With further research, I found that motility for chronic constipation patients had been improved with supplements of 5-HTP. This is a precursor to serotonin which is important for sleep, mood, and a general feeling of well being. We had used it before to aid Brandon's insomnia, but with little results. He had shown some signs of depression so it made sense to try it again with a different dosage: 50mg with each meal. 5-HTP helped. His motility and sleep patterns improved, but the nausea and abdominal pain still remained.
Natural Gas and Allergies
The natural gas seemed to have the common effect on all our allergies by making what allergies we did have worse. Dr. Ross stated in his research that he felt the methane “potentized” the allergens. Either this is true, or what seems more likely is that the gas weakens the body's immune response. The mechanism of this is unclear.
Allergies are the immune system's inappropriate response to proteins. The offending proteins are treated as if they were infecting invaders. Pollens are proteins, and true food allergies are to protein components in food (milk, nuts or to the protective proteins on the surface of vegetables).
Leaning about the enzyme depleting effects of natural gas and mercaptan on humans and animals helped bring a new theory together. My children's digestions problems were primarily with digesting proteins, especially meats. It seemed to make sense that the allergy problems could be caused by proteins that were not broken down properly because of the lack of digestive enzymes.
We knew that digestive enzymes were a tremendous help for my children at mealtimes. The results of a comprehensive stool exam on Brandon gave us an even better understanding of the mechanics of this. His pancreas wasn't producing its enzymes at normal levels. These enzymes focus on proteins and carbohydrates. We supplemented with an enzyme that specifically replaces pancreatic enzymes at each meal and his digestion improved. The girls remained taking enzymes on an “as needed” basis and this helped them as well. The hope was that continued use might help allergies as well.
To address the nerve toxins, we looked into several detoxifying options. Most had ingredients that were on his “Do Not Eat” list. This made it difficult to support liver detoxification. Even foods as basic as lemons or watermelons were a problem. We learned that some toxins are stored in the body in fat cells. The body encapsulates the toxin in order to protect itself.
We tried Isagenix, he did his best to take it, but the flavor was strong and there were so few things he could mix it with. Smoothies would have been ideal, but again he was limited to foods without milk and few juices. Tea just didn't mask the taste enough and the constant nausea didn't help matters.
Through this all, Brandon had been stronger than any 11-year-old can be. We all enjoyed when he would laugh, but it often made his stomach hurt more. There were a few days when I would come home from work, and he would be sitting on my bed, alone, wrapped in a blanket staring at a wall in the evening light. It was so sad.
I longed for my son to be the lively bouncing kid he had once been. He was missing out on so much. He had one friend that stuck by him, Mitchel. Thank God for Mitchel. His mom was a nurse, and a confidant to me. I felt so good when Brandon felt good enough to go to Mitchel's to play — about once every two weeks. Fun and laughter was good medicine. Even if his insomnia kept him up all night, Brandon wouldn't miss a play date with his buddy. It gave him a reason to push through.
The winter of 2006-07 was a challenging one. We couldn't use the gas heat because it made symptoms worse, so we wore sweaters and used space heaters at night. Without the use of the stove or oven, Thanksgiving dinner was a challenge, and we laughed at our ability to pull it off: turkey from a crock pot, mashed potatoes and veggies from the rice cooker. Gravy and green beans on the two burner cook plate, rolls and pie from the toaster oven. Sadly, Brandon was feeling too poorly to enjoy the meal.
The Healing Process
An old acquaintance, Dan, crossed my path that winter, someone I hadn't seen in at least 5 years. Our conversation turned to my family's struggle and Brandon's dilemma. I had been praying that day, crying out that I couldn't take much more. Hope seemed thin and we needed an infusion of faith to keep going. Dan was an Art Director by trade, but an encourager by calling.
I needed to hear what he said to me that night. He pressed me to stop focusing on Brandon's illness and start walking in faith. Though I knew Brandon would someday heal, I was weary and it showed. Dan exhorted me to truly believe and start living like I believed it. Brandon would pick up on my courage and it would help him too. Dan was right, I needed a shot of faith and he gave it to me. He also encouraged me to start asking others who care about my family to pray. As difficult as this was for me to do — I did it. I asked for prayer support and loving replies rolled in from around the world!
By spring 2007, I was growing more concerned about Brandon's spirits; his drive to press on seemed to be waning. I took a medical leave from work to focus on him. He perked up a bit in the first two weeks so I knew I had made a good choice. His health didn't improve much and we sought the counsel of a therapist to help him deal with the difficulties of a chronic condition. At our first meeting, the counselor asked both Brandon and I why we were there. As I explained our gassy saga, I broke down. Brandon saw my struggle. That I loved him so much and it was so hard to see him so sad.
I explained how he didn't even have the drive to do school work and that I was concerned he was dealing with depression. (obviously I was too!) That day when we arrived home, Brandon come to me and made an announcement. “Mom, I've decided to just deal and be happy.” Surprised I asked, “What does that mean?” “Just that. I'm going to deal and be happy no matter how I feel.” Then he went to his room. Perplexed I waited to see what would happen.
His drive was back. The next day he pushed through his school work though he physically felt no better. He had accepted that his illness was going away any time soon and decided to move forward despite it. This proved to be a huge step toward healing. That month his teacher gave him a school achievement test. His reading and comprehension scored at 11th and 12th grade levels though he was only in 6th grade. She encouraged him. “If you get through this illness… you will be unstoppable!”
I continued my leave from work and my friend Cindy invited me to attend a Women's Bible group to help keep my “spirits” up. I really needed the encouragement and support I received there. Our table leader was Shirley. A woman gifted in leadership and more. Gentle but firm, she led the ladies with wisdom. I respected her. Her church had a ministry who prayed for the sick. Cindy urged me to take Brandon and my whole family in to the prayer room. She said people were being healed there.
I hesitated. Not that I didn't have faith that healing can happen, but after 3.5 years of illness, 13 doctors, and so many tests (I haven't even listed them all) one more build up of hope and potential disappointment was more than our family could take. And, if their approach to healing ministry was anything like some I had seen on television, I didn't want anything to do with it. I stalled, but Cindy kept bringing it up. When I learned that Shirley was the manager of the prayer room, I started to seriously consider making an appointment. I discussed it with my husband, and we decided to go in the middle of July.
Shirley talked to Brandon like he was her younger equal. Not like a child, more like a young friend. She told him that people had been praying for him all week and that she knew God wanted to heal him. She told him healing would come in phases instead of one big lump. They discussed his roll in the healing process and he agreed that his part was to eat well and exercise. We all prayed and that was it. No weirdness, just honest discussion and prayer.
Thankful that these people I had recently got to know were willing to extend themselves so far for my family. I prepared to say goodbye. Shirley asked if we would come again in two weeks. Wow! They really want us to come again? I was amazed and so thankful. So we came again in two weeks. Brandon walked out of Shirley's office with a lighter step than he went in with. He was encouraged and it showed.
We went back to see Shirley four more times. She always encouraged and challenged Brandon and she and a partner would pray for him. She would give him assignments to search out scriptures and he amazed us each time with encouraging insights and wisdom beyond his years.
Each visit, Shirley would ask Brandon about his symptoms and they were almost always better. She prayed for his liver too. This seemed strange because it was not a symptom we had mentioned. Four weeks later I had requested a copy of some recent blood work. The doctor had said all the results were good but when I reviewed the pages, I noticed one area that was not normal — the liver. Shirley had known what even the doctor had overlooked.
On the fifth visit, Shirley checked her list. “Brandon, how is your nausea?” “Fine,” he said. “Is it still there?” “No. It's gone.” he reported. “Wow!” Shirley exclaimed, “and your headaches?” “Nope, gone.” “Really! for how long?” he thought about it and he had been feeling better for the last two weeks — since our last visit. In fact, all his symptoms were gone! (except his wacky sleep patterns). His birthday was that week and he had enjoyed a cheeseburger, some fries and ice cream for dessert with Mitchel. He wouldn't have been able to eat that meal four weeks before that! Brandon was healed body, mind and spirit. My happy, healthy Brandon was back.
Brandon had a friend over to our house last week. They were obnoxiously noisy and I loved it! His dad tickles him now and he laughs! Something they haven't enjoyed in years. Two weeks ago, he went to a new friend's birthday party and went swimming. He was the last one out of the pool.
Brandon is back, and better (wiser and healthier) than before.
Now, it is our turn to help others to heal.
We hope our story has helped you.