Battling Mold At Home And At Work

Michael Rubino

January 5

Today’s Mold Talks guest is Lisa Christensen, an artist, art teacher, mold exposure survivor, and mold advocate. Her experience with mold has been a long and difficult road, with exposure occurring both in her home and at her place of work. From dealing with apartment complex managers to insurance companies and school boards, Lisa now knows just how difficult handling mold can be.

Even with all of the pain, obstacles, and discouraging situations she's faced, she’s using her experience to help others as much as possible. From advocacy to pushing for change, Lisa is pushing for mold awareness, acceptance, and proper removal so that no one has to suffer as she has suffered. In particular, she said, students and teachers who attend mold-filled schools.

Their chat delves into the ups and downs of Lisa’s entire experience with this indoor contaminant and many of the current issues that exist in society when it comes to handling a mold problem. Her experience highlights the changes that need to occur as well as the importance of properly handling mold growth. Not only that, but it demonstrates how mold can exist in any building and affect those who are inside.

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Today’s Talk:

"I’m starting to think the new pandemic is mold and housing because people don't build homes the way they should be, and they're not remediating them the way they should be."

Lisa’s journey with mold illness began in 2019 after moving into what she thought was a brand new apartment complex in Austin, Texas. It came equipped with a list of phenomenal amenities, like a volleyball court and a pool, so she thought she had hit the housing jackpot. Over the months following her moving in, though, she began experiencing a growing list of over 30 seemingly random symptoms. From dementia and chronic infections to continuous full-body pain and mood swings, Lisa barely felt like herself while living through the exposure. 

"I just remember thinking to myself, I'm in my early 40s, but my body feels like I'm 90 years old, and I was like, ‘What is going on?’"

At first, she thought that a food allergy might be to blame, but nothing she tried helped to alleviate her symptoms. The major event that led her to realize there was a problem was simply turning on the heat in her home. Immediately, her body went into defense mode. Her vision went completely black for two minutes, her lymph nodes began to swell, and her heart rate began racing and skipping beats. Semi-luckily, her brother experienced a toxic mold event two years prior, and she intuitively decided to check her air vents to see if there was any mold.

As it turns out, there was. Her HVAC system broke down a few years prior, leading to a mold problem developing. 

"When you rent a place, they're not required to check vents and check the air quality, and all that stuff like that. There are all these loopholes that I'm learning about that are very unfortunate." 

Using her brother’s previous experience, she immediately got the mold tested, confronted her apartment complex about the issue, and battled the insurance company for assistance. While she received two months of rent back, she was far from thrilled with the result. She then spent over $15 thousand out-of-pocket remediating her personal items and getting started on her long journey of healing. 

"My first couple months (after discovering the mold problem), I was just constantly in bed and I was barely able to make food and things like that. But I did get immediate relief being out of my place… It was just like a long process. It took me about nine months to detox and to get healed." 

Her experience with mold didn’t end there, though. A year or so later, she moved back to Washington, D.C., and obtained a position as an art teacher at a local school in a lower-income community. The interviewing process took place as she was transitioning from Texas to the Virginia area, so she decided to jump in and accept the job before she visited the school. 

About an hour into her tour of the building, Lisa began experiencing similar symptoms to those she developed while living with mold. 

"I immediately called the assistant principal and said, ‘Hey, has the school been tested for mold? Because I'm reacting to the building and I can't work in this environment.’ And she told me that they would take care of it over the summer. So I just assumed it would be taken care of I went back."

Her first day working at the school proved that the situation wasn’t, in fact, handled over the summer. She immediately began feeling ill. While she attempted to power through the next few days, Lisa knew that she wouldn’t be able to continue working in that environment. Her body just wouldn't allow it. 

What followed were months of trying to transfer to a different school, managing sick leave, finding a doctor to help her manage the long list of symptoms she began developing again, and working to get on disability so she wasn’t left without pay. 

"There were a lot of obstacles I had to shoot hoops through."

At the current moment, Lisa is healing and looking for a mold-free place to work and live. She’s also using her experience to help push for change in her school and in schools across the country that may be dealing with a mold problem. Especially those in underprivileged areas that don’t always get the funding they need. 

"The sad part of all of this is that these are kids that are not fully developed, where they'll get brain damage or they might mimic them having a learning disability and they don't even have one and it could mold. It hurts my heart that these children that I'm teaching… I want them to be successful in life, and this is poisoning their bodies, you know. So and then the sad part is a lot of these low-income kids probably already even have it in their homes." 

Learn more about Lisa Christensen at:

Instagram: @radienteart