Archive for the ‘Student Articles’ Category

Allergic To Life

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Mark Watters writes about his sister Tanya’s illness which has taken over her life.

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity is a chronic illness which affects approximately 7% of the population of America where it is now becoming recognised as the terrible and debilitating illness it is. There is simply no cure for MCS, alternative medicines and treatments may help, however it usually stays with its host for life. Tanya Watters, my sister of 25 years, was having the time of her life. Everything was unfolding for her perfectly and everything she wanted in life was in reach. Then suddenly, in an instant, the best time of her life suddenly turned to the worst. Due to a series of unfortunate events, Tanya ended up losing many things which were most important to her.

Tanya was, as I explained previously, was having the time of her life. She was living in the exciting Dublin city having received a First Class Honours Degree in Biochemistry with Immunology at Trinity College. After receiving her degree, she worked as a research assistant in a laboratory in Trinity. Her enthusiasm and devotion to her chosen field led to her being offered a PhD in early 2007. Tanya, from a young age, had strong ambitions to travel the world and see extraordinary sights. She decided to take a four month trip to south-east Asia with her sister, Michelle in the summer of 2007. The trip was extremely exciting throughout their first six weeks in Asia and Tanya adds “I felt like the luckiest person on earth”. Their trip itinerary was nothing short of amazing. They had planned to conquer mountain climbing, live with tribes, elephant trekking, numerous water sports, jungle camping and Scuba Diving. Little did Tanya know that Scuba Diving, a supposedly “bit’a craic!” would change her life forever. Tanya and Michelle completed the compulsory Open Water diving course, also known as PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors). Throughout this course, they visited one of the most breathtaking and beautiful diving sites in the world, they enjoyed this so much that they had to have more. Their next planned dive was off the coast of the Perhentian Islands, where they also wanted some valuable “beach time”.

Their next dive was one which Tanya will never forget. Tanya arose to the surface after the dive and immediately realised that something was wrong, she felt extremely weak, nauseous and had a terrible headache. Her symptoms became increasingly worse over the next few days and some new neurological symptoms became evident to her. Tanya now knows she had suffered an Air Embolism which is also known as a type 3 DCI (Decompression Illness), the most common illness suffered by beginner SCUBA divers. An Air Embolism is a medical condition in which gas bubbles are present in the bloodstream. She describes it as a small amount of her lungs alveoli bursting, and the resulting burst of air travelled to her brain, causing injury. DCI is relatively harmless if the patient is treated right away using HBOT (Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy).However the longer it is left untreated, the higher the chance that the damage will be permanent. Feeling as bad as she did, she went to a diving instructor’s and even though she had every symptom related to DCI, they rudely ignored her and made her out to be a hypochondriac. She returned here for several days after, however they still refused treatment and came up with ridiculous reasons for her symptoms.

Tanya finally had enough and found a Navy hospital in Bangkok. The doctor there quickly diagnosed her with DCI and carried out the standard navy protocol, HBOT. Tanya states that she improved from this HBOT, but did not fully recover. In fact, at the end of the standard navy protocol, she was showing some new symptoms, which she later found out was the early stages of Oxygen Toxicity, a medical condition caused by breathing in too much oxygen, something which the doctor at the hospital didn’t recognise.

At this stage, Tanya was given some terrible and horrifying advice by another HBOT clinic back in Ireland. The man who she had spoken to had scared her into coming home, something which was dangerous in her case, when it would have been better for her to stay put and relax in South East Asia. Tanya describes this as “The worst decision I ever made, listening to that man”. Tanya now definitely feels some resentment towards both the diving school and the HBOT clinic for obvious reasons. Back in the clinic in Ireland, Tanya was treated with a very dangerous protocol by people who didn’t truly understand the HBOT protocol for people like her. They also ignored her pleas for help, much like the diving instructors back in South East Asia. She was treated with a huge dose of HBOT at a high pressure for an extended period of time, which is a tremendous amount more than she should have been treated with. At the start of the HBOT, Tanya’s condition started to deteriorate however the staff at the clinic told her to continue the HBOT which would make her better. During this HBOT, Tanya’s body became addicted to the high dose of Oxygen. This resulted in Tanya getting withdrawal symptoms from the Oxygen, which complicated matters. Not many people know that oxygen can harm severely. Due to this extended HBOT with her Oxygen Toxicity, Tanya’s brain suffered additional injury.

She finally realised the HBOT had done a lot of damage, so she stopped and returned home to Donegal. It was almost impossible for her to find a knowledgeable doctor as Oxygen Toxicity is neither well documented nor researched. Tanya then discovered a doctor who specialized in treating brain injuries with HBOT in New Orleans. She decided to leave for America in December of 2007 in order to see him. Due to her condition, travelling by plane may have been dangerous, so instead she travelled by cruise ship, train and bus on her own to New Orleans, which then started the next chapter in Tanya’s story.

New Orleans was both good and bad for Tanya. The doctor that helped her, Dr. Paul Harch, was a ray of hope to her and he understood Tanya’s injury and what she was going through. He treated her extremely well and helped her learn more about what happened to her. By the time she arrived in New Orleans, she had started to improve. However, on exposure to chemicals her condition would deteriorate again. These were the first signs that Tanya was developing MCS. The Oxygen Toxicity had caused an intense inflammatory reaction in her brain which left her susceptible to damage by chemicals and triggered the MCS. She had many chemical exposures while in New Orleans. In the hostel where she had lodged initially, she was constantly exposed to strong cleaning products such as Lysol and Pinesol, and after, it took Tanya days to recover. Unfortunately, Tanya was exposed to pesticide after which the MCS became much more severe and everything started to affect her. After all her exposures, it took less and less amounts of chemicals to affect her, which is what usually happens to MCS patients. Tanya realised she could not stay much longer in New Orleans and endure all the exposures. She purchased a Carbon filter mask, which she still uses to this day, to reduce the severity of her exposures slightly. She travelled to New York and stayed with her sister Michelle, before leaving for Ireland once more on a cruise ship. Tanya found the cruise ship extremely stressful due to the amount of exposures she had received. She even considered sleeping on the deck just to escape from all the chemicals!

Tanya returned home to Donegal in August 2008. Since returning our family has changed dramatically to help Tanya on her road to recovery. Since changing our ways, all of us have realised how much chemicals have taken over the world, and how hard it is to find anything chemical free. Most of the food, products and everyday items we use are now organic and chemical free. Tanya, thought that returning home would help her significantly, but didn’t expect all the chemicals, even though it was much better than where she had come from! All chemicals now affect Tanya, such as car fumes, perfume, beauty products, washing detergent, deodorant, cleaning products and fabric softener. Tanya is extremely affected by smoke from chimneys, which unfortunately, is ubiquitous to where we live. Also the boiler in our house is inside which means the heat cannot be turned on due to the resulting fumes.

Tanya received some great news during the autumn of 2008. Our neighbour and close friend was letting her stay in a small cottage, away from petrol and smoke and instead, sat right beside the sea. The cottage itself has been a relief for Tanya, and with some nip and tuck early on, it provided Tanya a place to live where she can, for the most part, control her environment. It is not perfect; however it is safer than our house in Tullycleave. Since she began living in the cottage, Tanya is feeling better than before, when she was surrounded by chemicals

For all MCS patients, to have a chance of recovering, it is essential that they live in a completely chemical free environment, however this is costly and time consuming and near impossible in today’s world. If she manages to get a safe environment where she can escape from the chemical triggers of MCS, then she will hopefully be able to try some treatments that may give her some relief. She is also trying various diets, which have can aid recovery from MCS.

As I stated earlier, there is no cure for MCS, however, with Tanya’s enthusiasm and optimism, I am sure that one day, be it years from now, Tanya will be back in good health and living the life she should be.