Tuesday, November 30, 2021
Nov. 30, 2021

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Mold makes Vancouver house uninhabitable

Couple's health, finances, wrecked by situation

By , Columbian Health Reporter
4 Photos
White and black mold covers the attic of Craig and Shelly Johnson's Vancouver home.
White and black mold covers the attic of Craig and Shelly Johnson's Vancouver home. Photo Gallery

Craig and Shelly Johnson bought their Andresen neighborhood home 24 years ago. To the high school sweethearts, it was the perfect place to raise their kids and enjoy their future grandkids.

This summer, the Johnsons learned their dream home was poisoning them.

After a decade of unexplained chronic pain, fatigue, respiratory infections and debilitating headaches, Craig, 54, and Shelly, 50, learned the attic of their home was full of various varieties of black and white mold.

A Go Fund Me account has been established to collect money to purchase Craig and Shelly Johnson a new home. Donations can be made there. Donations to the Raise the Roof Foundation account also can be made at any Columbia Credit Union branch.

Because of the level of toxins, their home is uninhabitable. The roof must be completely removed, and the insulation, sheetrock and wood inside replaced. Anything that isn’t glass or metal must be thrown away, including furniture, appliances, clothes, linens and even the family photos hanging on the walls.

Devastated, the couple contacted their insurance company only to learn their policy — like most homeowner policies — has a mold exclusion. Nothing is covered.

A Go Fund Me account has been established to collect money to purchase Craig and Shelly Johnson a new home. Donations can be made there. Donations to the Raise the Roof Foundation account also can be made at any Columbia Credit Union branch.

Three years ago, the couple filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy after draining their retirement fund and bank accounts to pay for medical tests and treatments.

“We have nothing left,” Shelly said.

Shelly’s health decline

The Johnsons bought their home in 1990. Six years later, they did an extensive remodel, finishing their basement and adding a bedroom and bathroom. They had new insulation put in the attic, new siding and windows on the house.

Years later, the Johnsons learned the new bathroom vents were never hooked up — instead, they lay on top of the insulation in the attic — and the attic vents were covered by the new siding. The moisture from thousands of showers over the years had been trapped in the attic, creating a breeding ground for mold.

The Johnsons had noticed a slight musty smell, but they attributed the smell to the old home, built in 1926.

About 10 years ago, Craig, Shelly and their sons — Nick, now 32, and Beau, 29 — began noticing changes in their health. They regularly battled bronchitis, pneumonia and asthma.

Then Shelly began experiencing chronic headaches, muscle and joint pain and back spasms that made it difficult for her to get out of bed. The back pain became excruciating in August 2007; by Sept. 15, 2007, she couldn’t walk.

Shelly underwent a battery of tests and was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic pain disorder. She was forced to quit her job managing a day care center and stopped driving.

After a few years of trying various pain treatments without any improvement, Shelly had a spinal cord stimulator implanted in 2010. During the procedure, however, her spinal sac was torn. Since then, Shelly has had uncontrollable twitching in her foot, as if she’s wiggling her toes nonstop.

The stimulator later proved to be ineffective and was removed in 2012. That’s when Shelly was put on a treatment plan that finally relieved some of her pain. On a good day, her pain is at a four on a one to 10 pain scale.

Craig’s health decline

As the couple was trying to manage Shelly’s pain, Craig began to experience symptoms of his own. Craig has always been strong and active, working at Yard ‘n Garden Land in Vancouver as a landscaper for 20 years.

Suddenly, though, he was crippled by debilitating headaches. He was getting easily confused, forgetting how to operate the equipment at work and getting lost on his way to work. He wasn’t completing sentences and was having problems with asthma and allergies. His body ached and his muscles were weak.

Craig had just turned 50 and thought his aging body and the stress of Shelly’s declining health were causing his problems. He stopped eating red meat, gave up alcohol and took up running. He lost 60 pounds.

None of it helped.

In 2012, Craig spent four days at Oregon Health & Science University to undergo testing for seizure disorder. The tests didn’t find anything, and Craig’s condition continued to deteriorate. By June of this year, Craig was confined to his bed. He was too sick to get up.

Craig saw a nurse practitioner in July who ran a litany of tests. The physician suspected heavy metal poisoning, but the tests came back negative. He was stumped.

“I said, ‘Well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve been sick for seven years and they’ve never been able to figure out what’s wrong,'” Shelly said.

That comment ultimately led to the mold discovery. Craig’s physician asked the couple to have their home tested for potential toxins. On July 8, an inspector told the Johnsons their attic and basement had toxic levels of mold.

The couple were stunned.

“In a way, I felt naive, that I let my family down in some way because I didn’t pick up on this,” Craig said.

Mold detox

Craig and Shelly immediately moved out of their home and into the small apartment they had built on their property for Shelly’s mother 11 years earlier.

Craig sought treatment at a mold center in Tigard, Ore. He tested extremely high for a variety of different molds and began a treatment regimen about a month ago. He’s taking 32 different pills and has eight vials to inhale each day. He has inhalers for his asthma, and lung and kidney medication.

The treatment is not covered by his health insurance and costs about $500 per month. He will be on the regimen for three months, possibly longer.

After missing 12 weeks of work, Craig was finally able to return to his job a couple of weeks ago.

“I’m feeling better every day,” he said.

Shelly begins treatment at the mold center on Wednesday.

“It’s exciting to see he looks this much better in a month,” she said, “that we have hope we’ll feel better.”

Raise the Roof

The Johnsons’ friends and family have rallied around the couple in the months since they learned of the mold.

Estimates to mediate the mold problem top $250,000. And even if the home is remodeled, the Johnsons run the risk of getting ill if all of the mold spores aren’t found and removed.

Instead, friends and family are hoping to build the couple a new home.

Longtime friend Tiffany Johnson established a nonprofit, Raise the Roof Foundation, for the cause. She’s organized fundraisers and created an online crowdfunding account to collect donations.

The Johnsons are working with a developer interested in purchasing the home through a short sale. They don’t want to walk away from the home for fear it’ll be given a quick fix and sold to another family.

“We don’t want another family to go through this,” Craig said.

If they can safely sell the house, the Johnsons will then begin searching for a new place to live.

Leaving behind the house that has become a home to their friends, neighbors and extended family throughout the years will be tough, Craig said. They’ve hosted countless get-togethers, barbecues and birthday parties in their large, manicured yard.

“This was our dream house,” Craig said. “That’s the hardest part of leaving here. But we’ll start a new tradition.”

Columbian Health Reporter