Interview with Author of Allergic to Life: My Battle for Courage, Survival and Hope, Kathryn Treat
Firstly, for readers who don’t know of the author Kathryn Treat, she wrote the book, Allergic to Life: My Battle for Courage, Survival and Hope, which was very popular amongst the Allergy and Chemical Sensitivity Set (like the hippies and the science buffs!). She was also a blogger. The type who made you feel like you knew her in real life; the type you could sit down with and a have cuppa and a chat with. Well, that’s how it was for me anyway; as it was with many others.
I know of people who changed their chemical usage practices just from making friends with her over the internet. Treat was not only approachable but she always seemed to have the right things to say at just the right moment. We’re not an easy lot, us chronically ill. However, being friends with Treat was like having that perfect aunt, always there with a kind word to pick you up, spur you on.
Here is a prime example of how she impacted one non-chemically sensitive person, Rachel Meeks’ life (for those of you with EHS or who are unable to watch the YouTube clip you can find a summary of the it here on this page (cause we at the Labyrinth are all about inclusion here!).
In part I of ‘New Beginnings—no turning back’, an interview with Kathryn Treat, Author of Allergic to Life: My Battle for Survival, Courage and Hope, we spoke with Treat about her visits to the Dallas Environmental Health Centre (DEHC) starting in 2002, in Dallas under the care of Dr William Rea; the treatments she found helpful, such as LDA therapy, a chemical free living space, avoidance of chemicals to which she had been tested and deemed sensitive to, B12 injections, an elimination diet, food rotation and avoidance of food allergens, IV supplements of Glutathione, vitamin C and magnesium, acupuncture and saunas; and a non-toxic home built especially for her with materials she’s not reactive to.
In the final parts of this interview (long form style!), we will delve more into the specifics of her non-toxic home and the exact materials used. Then, in future parts we will study how she copes with Christmas and holidays; faith; her use of Tyvek suits; and how she avoids being exposed to fragrances! (I’ve not been well at all for some time. On and off. When I’m on I write a lot; however, I’ve had to learn to choose where to put my energy these days, so completing this interview has been a long slug: 2 years and 2 months so far. So you will have to excuse me and take my long-form journalistic interview in the parts as I offer them up.)
(Please note that, sadly, Kathryn Treat passed away from a stroke on 22nd December 2014. Part II is written in the present tense just as Part I was because, to me, it’s as if she is still with us. Her contributions to the MCS/ES community (and other communities touched by chronic/invisible illnesses) have touched many, and through her book, her blog and the many blogs and websites who featured her interviews, insights, comments and articles, and in the hearts of her family, her friends, readers and followers, she, along with her bravery and strength, live on within us all.
Kathryn Treat was a candle for people with MCS and related conditions, as she was for all who suffer with invisible and chronic illness; she reflected light and truth on our situation and plight.)
(Also, most excitingly: Part I of ‘New Beginnings—No Turning Back’ can be found in AESSRA’s Sensitivity Matters magazine, issue no. 82, December 2014 and on The Labyrinth ~ and finding my way out, here. Membership to AESSRA, including magazine subscription can be found here. I’m also chuffed to say that Treat’s book, Allergic to Life: My Battle for Survival, Courage and Hope, can now be borrowed by mail from the AESSRA library.)
(For those who are unable to read part I or don’t have the time or energy, in brief, a synopsis of the diagnoses observed in 2002 by Dr William Rea from the Environmental Health Centre, Dallas (EHCD) are as follows:
- Toxic Encephalopathy secondary to mold, mold toxin and chemical exposure (when I was moved from the school with the mold to a new school being painted, etc. while we were trying to set it up for school to start [her sensitivities spread to substances other than mould])
- Toxic Effects of Petrochemicals and Solvents
- Toxic Effects of Mold and Mold Toxin
- Immune Deregulation
- Allergic Rhinitis
- Food Sensitivity (only safe foods at the time were rabbit, venison, deer, elk, cranberries, acorn squash, eggs, raspberries)
- Mold Sensitivity
- Pollen Sensitivity
- Chemical Sensitivity
- Chronic Sinusitits
- Chronic Fatigue
- Autonomic Nervous System Dysfunction
- Multi-organ system dysfunction
- Neurotoxicity based on SPECT scan
- Hyper metabolic and hyper reactive state
Part II, ‘New Beginnings—No Turning Back’
The Path to a Non-toxic House
In the study titled, ‘Perceived Treatment Efficacy for Conventional and Alternative Therapies Reported by People with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity’ by Pamela Reed Gibson, published in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), available on Pubmed, the three most highly rated treatments are, “creating a chemical-free living space, chemical avoidance, and prayer.’ With “Both creating a chemical-free living space and chemical avoidance” being rated by 95% of respondents as helpful.
When Treat first came home from the Dallas Environmental Health Centre, the house her loving husband and the father of her two daughters, Rick, hadn’t yet finished building the home especially created and modified to be allergy-free for her. It was at lock up stage only! He had to carry her across the mud outside, over the threshold and into the only room tiled and painted. Rick had made this one room safe: The office were she’s sitting today, at 6 am, US time, still warmly cloaked in her dressing gown, for this transatlantic interview via Skype!
Here, in this small office she lived 24/7 for four months while Rick finished erecting, plastering and painting the rest of the house’s walls, and tiling the floors around her.
Insulated from the outside world, in this pocket of controlled and filtered air, she spent her nights sleeping on a single portable metal cot with blankets folded as a mattress; during the day, she sat reading books, her only human company coming from the chatter emanating from a small radio she’d bought back from her stay in Dallas. And, at times with the radio off, the silence was deafening. “My toilet was a five-gallon plastic bucket. Rick would take it up to the other house and empty it in the toilet. Rick promised that he would work on getting the bathroom fixed as soon as possible. There were no interior doors. Sheets of plastic hung to separate the house from the garage, and my room from the rest of the house.” Would she ever come out of this room? Would her house ever be safe enough for her to spend her days in without the threat of anaphylaxis hanging over her head? Would she ever be able to cook her own meals, possibly even in her own kitchen? In her words: “It sure didn’t feel like it.”
At night, after working full-time as a teacher, Rick came home, dutiful and diligent, he worked on the house until late in the evenings. ‘Most fortunately [months previously] he secured living arrangements, to save on travel time (from work to the new house to home and back again each day), by renting the premises next door. “We didn’t have a lot of time to get this house built.” And, with the budget to build being so tight, because, while back in Dallas, they were spending tens of thousands of dollars on treatment, plus there was the cost of renting the condo she shared with another patient, and additional money spent on air-fares so Rick could fly out from California, so he could visit her, giving her a sense of security in a world abruptly tipped on its axis, she knew that she was lucky to have this cramped little room as her world.
Outside, orbiting like intergalactic planets seemingly far out of reach, were the rooms that were to become her safe home.
An Allergy-free, Safe Home
The pride in Treat’s voice when she talks of the safe, non-toxic home her husband built for her is unmistakeable. “The walls are pale butter; the Tesoro tiles are a lovely golden brown. If I could do it over again, I’d choose different tiles: these have indentations that hold the dirt. I use a commercial scrubber every once in a while just to get them clean.” For chemically sensitive patients, especially those with asthma and respiratory issues or symptoms bought on by exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs), tiles are the stock standard item for a chemically-free living space. “It’s important to get porcelain tiles because they’ll keep the colour if they get chipped.” Maintenance and durability are typical concerns for someone living in any owner-built abode; ergo, most other elements of this home are so far from the typical home owner’s concerns as to be totally unimaginable to the average housing consumer:
Building Materials Used
- Kiln-dried lumber;
- Ceramic tiles throughout;
- Formaldehyde free insulation;
- The inside walls are made from formaldehyde-free sheetrock;
- Zero Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) paints: Kelly Moore Eco-Care paints;
- The outside is Stucco (Portland cement plaster wall) exterior;
- The heating is an electric heat pump hooked into the central heating—instead of gas.
- The cabinets are mostly oak (any wood that’s not solid, such as shelving made from chipboard or MDF, is completely sealed and encased in Formica, which is a hard plastic coating (as suggested by Dr Rea)). [For some chemically sensitive people] This stops it from outgassing the chemical irritant, formaldehyde;
What She’d Do Differently:
“There may be a few things I would have done that I didn’t do. But I am doing well here.” However, if they had the chance to build again:
- The garage would be separate from the house; that way there’d be a breezeway between the two. This would stop car fumes from accidently entering into the home;
- Whole-house water filtration system (rather than just filters on the showers);
- A whole-house air filtration system;
- She’d have all the walls with pipes back up to a closet that gives access to view the pipes;
- And she’d choose a different location but as they already had the block when she first became ill, the choice to build a safe house on it, right there in sunny California, seemed like the smart thing to do.
She credits many of her home’s attributes to the book, The Healthy House: How to Buy One, How to Build One, How to Cure a “Sick” One, by John Bower (4th edition, November 28, 2000). “I also consulted with Dr. Rea when I had questions.”
Other elements that make this house a safe haven:
A HEPA air purifier;
As far as paints go, “The lighter the colour the less VOCs,” she says in an educative tone showing she’s an old hand at this. “My daughter is also ecologically minded and looks for low VOC paints,” Treat says proudly.
The window frames are made from vinyl. “This stops it from sweating. Dual or double pain windows help also.”
Perhaps other chemically sensitive people can’t tolerate the chemicals in vinyl but, as she was in Dallas while it was being built, by the time she came to live in the house it outgassed enough that the impact on indoor air-quality has never been an issue for her;
The baseboards/skirting boards are solid wood—not bare particleboard, which even ten years later would still be releasing formaldehyde into this much-needed clean living space.
The other problem with particleboard is that it can grow mould in between the particles if it gets wet.
These days, for Treat, the rooms are like bubbles of clean air, encapsulating her, protecting her from the outside world, now, medically deemed so unsafe, too tainted with chemical irritants, and far too polluted for her to be a part of for anymore than a fleeting visit. Treat has become so sensitised to mould that even the teeniest exposure can set her back for weeks. So, it’s a credit to her and her husband’s hard work that in the eleven years since living here, her health has improved immensely; and, as discussed in Part I, so long as she monitors how often and where to she ventures out, her immune system tolerates more foods and more exposures as time goes on.
Part III will discuss Treat’s innovative and successful use of Tyveks suits to protect her health and from mould contamination.
How did Kathryn Treat impact on your life?
Part I: New Beginnings—No Turning Back
Sonda MCS Chatter: MCS SISTER— KATHRYN TREAT & HER NEW BOOK/ “ALLERGIC TO LIFE”
Book Review: Allergic to Life: My Battle for Courage, Survival and Hope
The Labyrinth: Tribute to Kathryn Treat
Brilliant Video Tribute from the blog, Do I Look Sick: #Pour1Out4MCS
The Labyrinth: In Loving Memory to Kathryn Treat
Kathryn Treat’s Book, Allergic to Life: My Battle for Courage, Survival and Hope, on Amazon
Join AESSRA and borrow it from their library (by mail!)
Kathryn Treat’s Blog: Allergic to Life My Battle
Goodreads: Treat’s Author Page
Musings of a Dysautonomiac: Allergic to Life: Interview With Author Kathryn Treat
Kathryn Treat: Musings and Morsels from an Allergic Foodie (1-22-15)
Rave Reviews: Kathryn Treat ‘Book Giveaway’ Treasure Chest