Colorado Springs mother concerned daughters’ sickness came from mold at school

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After years of pain and unanswered questions of what was causing it, on Christmas 2018, Emily Wilson received the best gift she ever could have hoped for — her daughter’s health was coming back.

“It is amazing to hear laughter in our house again,” said Wilson.

The laughter has not come easy for her family. It comes after months of intense detoxification sessions each of her three daughters have gone through at varying levels. 

The cause is now known: chronic inflammatory response syndrome, caused by exposure to toxic mold. That diagnosis came after years of pain and, as Wilson describes it, suffering for her now 10-year-old daughter, Abigail.

Around the start of the school year in 2016, Abigail had serious anxiety over birthdays, holidays, school projects and other aspects of her life. In a letter addressed to The Classical Academy Board of Directors, Wilson says her eldest daughter fought to get out of bed.

“She just became very unhappy and moody like she never had been before,” Wilson said.

Abigail had a stay at the hospital, and Wilson even worried about her young daughter committing suicide.

Shortly after the symptoms surfaced, Emily and her husband, Jerry, brought her to a therapist, where she was officially diagnosed with anxiety and a form of bipolar disorder.

Abigail sustained through eight months of therapy, with no improvement. It was at that time the therapist suggested medication.

“This was a painful and agonizing decision for us initially as we were reluctant to medicate our daughter,” Wilson said in the letter.

They did eventually decide to go to medication. After, again, no improvement in her health, they didn’t know what else to do. The psychiatrist they brought her to, Dr. Brian Wise, then tried most everything that he could.

“Nothing was improving her condition and she should have seemed some improvement,” Wilson said. “So, he cast a wide net and did a huge amount of blood work on her. That is how we found out that she does not have a mental health disorder, she has had a toxic mold exposure.”

Wilson’s other two daughters, both younger than Abigail, have shown symptoms of stomach pains. Tests revealed all of them have a gene called HLA (human leukocyte antigen) that makes them more susceptible to the exposure of toxic mold.

She found several other families, all with children at The Classical Academy Central Elementary school campus, going through similar struggles. 

“There are 14 other families that have been diagnosed since spring of 2018, and we know of other children that are symptomatic,” Wilson said.

Within a week of her daughter’s official diagnosis of mold poisoning, she reached out to the school and the district with her concerns.

“When these issues were brought up, we did two additional tests,” said Tisha Harris, the director of communication for The Classical Academy. “We had tested in August of 2018. We also tested in October of 2018 and December of 2018, and we used two different firms.”

Central Elementary went through a renovation and expansion three years ago.

The Classical Academy has a history with the issue of mold in schools. 

Twelve years ago, mold was found at the east campus building. Harris said as soon as the fungus was found, students were dispersed to five other schools, and the building was completely rebuilt to be a part of the Pikes Peak Community College campus.

That situation, Harris said, has created a heightened awareness about mold in the district.

“When [the firms] tested, there were more mold spores outside in the regular air, than there were inside the building,” Harris said.

Still, Wilson doesn’t believe her claims have been followed up on an adequate level.

Emails with a person in the district said the mold was a “moot point” because her children were no longer in the district.

“We were not disappointed in the level of education that our children received, but we were very disappointed in the way we were treated when we raised serious concerns about our daughters’ health,” Wilson said.

She also said the testing is not sufficient.

The air tests documented in receipts to the school district, Harris said, are above and beyond World Health Organization standards.

Wilson says the Hersmi-II test is more efficient and more accurate. The tests came back negative when Wilson tested her own home.

Additional tests in both December and October revealed trace amounts of mold, but in the opinion of the technician by Symtech Consulting: “I really don’t see how ‘mold’ would be causing a problem. The levels are very low.”

“I get it,” Harris said. “I’m a mom. You want to find out the bottom of why your kid is sick and you look at all the areas of where your children have been.”

Wilson has started a Facebook group for families at the school who may be experiencing similar situations. She said so far, the outpouring of families reaching out has “shocked” her.

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