Today’s Mold Talks guest is Kealy Severson, a licensed healthcare professional, environmentally acquired injury specialist, podcast host, and mold survivor. While she’s not completely sure when her journey with mold-related illness began, she believes that this fungus began taking root when she was a child. However, it wasn't until her entire family began to get sick that she realized some environmental factor must be at play and she needed to begin reclaiming life after mold.
Her experience with mold highlights just how prevalent this mold is indoors and how drastically it can impact health. Kealy understands firsthand how much mold can impact normal, everyday life, having dealt with the effects of chronic illness, struggling to keep us as a mother of three, caring for sick children, and the strain on a marriage. Now, she’s using this massive and traumatic life event to help others who are also dealing with environmental contaminants.
Their conversation touches on how mold exposure can affect many aspects of life, how this fungus affects everyone differently, and how we frequently find ways to normalize not feeling well. Environmental factors, especially indoor mold growth, are also rarely considered when thinking of an underlying trigger for chronic symptoms.
"As I realized that I had been very sick from mold, I started searching back in my mind to previous exposures before I knew what water damage in a building led to. And, I have a very specific memory that I wasn't aware of as it was happening, but at around age 10, I would say like my personality kind of turned off, my energy changed."
Kealy’s awareness of mold may have begun later in life, but looking back, she believed that this fungus had been affecting her health for much longer. At a young age, she remembered playing in a damp basement, but at the time, it was "normal" for a basement to be wet in Wisconsin. Over time, she eventually developed a total personality change and a range of other symptoms, but again, no one talked ever talked about mold illness.
For years after, she went back and forth with a range of neurological and physical symptoms depending on what home she was in at the time. Still, she believed she just had allergies and anxiety, so she pushed through and lived with these ongoing symptoms. It wasn’t until she and her family moved in 2014 for her first job as an acupuncturist that the health implications of living with mold began to spiral out of control.
"We moved into an apartment that did have this mildew smell in the kitchen. One cabinet smelled so bad that we never put anything in it. Now me at that time, in acupuncture school, I had never learned anything about mold illness. I also did not associate a mildew smell with a hidden water leak or hidden mold. It just was not in my connection mechanisms at that."
Over the next five years, Kealy, her husband, and their three children all began developing a range of debilitating and life-altering symptoms. From reoccurring infections and mood shifts to taxing chronic fatigue and brain fog, they went through a wide range of adverse health reactions while unknowingly living in mold. Kealy also sadly had a miscarriage during this awful time in their lives. As she said during their discussion, there really wasn’t any aspect of life that wasn’t affected by the mold. An acupuncturist and herbalist, Kealy did everything she could to heal her family, but nothing seemed to make a dent in what they were feeling.
Over time, Kealy normalized and internalized the symptoms. She believed it was her mental health triggering her ongoing fatigue and unhappiness. It wasn’t until a random podcast that she started to wonder if something else wasn’t afoot.
"They told a story about a woman having seizures while in mold, but the part that caught my attention was she was having marital trouble because the relationship dynamic between my husband and I had changed so significantly that I was starting to feel like he tricked me into marrying him because this is just not the person that I married. Mind you, at this point, I don't know that I'm in mold or that mold can change people's personalities. So mold got on my radar."
As Kealy explains, her husband’s entire mood shifted while they were living in the house. Slowly, he started becoming angry more and more often, which would then eventually turn into rage. As she explains, he became a completely unrecognizable person, and she often feared for her children’s safety.
"I could not connect to him. Like, he couldn't hear me, he couldn't see me. It was like some part of his brain had just completely shut down."
Even with mold on her radar, it would be some time before she and her husband discovered the mold. As it turns out, that mildew smell in the kitchen was actually a massive mold problem contaminating their entire home. They immediately contacted the apartment management company and demanded something be done. Their response was to spray fungicide over everything and call it a day.
After returning to the apartment, Kealy and her family all became increasingly more ill. The turning point was when she experienced some form of seizure-life response. Her husband immediately put her in the car and moved their entire family into a hotel with only the clothes on their backs. They lost the apartment and all of their possessions inside that day.
A short while later, they moved into a townhome right down the street from their apartment.
"What we didn't know about that rental was that it had endured water damage 10 years prior to that, and the landlord had just basically put new trim on and painted the walls and called it a day. So we didn't know that we went from a building with growing and hidden live mold to hidden old dead mold."
While Kealy attempted to detox her family while in the new space, the healing process seemed to be taking much longer than normal. About a year later, they discovered hidden mold again in their kitchen. She immediately sent her children to live with her mother and then began the long battle of attempting to get the mold taken care of.
"I reported this to the landlords, and that's when I realized the corruption that's really in these industries. They had a mold inspector come out with a moisture meter, and they told us nothing that we found was mold. That it was all dirt. They told us they wanted to put sealant over it. They told us they didn't have to really remove anything or fix anything, that they could just kind of paint over this and that would be fine. I had done enough research up to that point to know how dangerous and how wrong they were."
Even after providing them with their own mold samples, which showed a range of species present in the home, they still refused to do much more than a few simple repairs. She attempted to continue going to "war" with these individuals, but eventually, they ended their lease with a 24-hour notice.
For the next eight months, Kealy and her family lived with her mother while they looked for another home. Unfortunately, that apartment had mold as well, so their detoxification process was once again slow-going. Now, they’re living in a new home free from mold growth.
"This is the most I've reclaimed my health… probably in years. This is the best my energy's been, the best my mood has been, the healthiest I’ve been in probably at least… I honestly can't even tell you how long."
For others going through similar experiences, Kealy emphasizes that everyone should always associate past water damage with possible mold. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
"And, the first thing that you should look to if you're chronically sick is something in your environment because it's been normalized to think that it's a disease or something else. So many of these chronic illnesses have an intimate environmental component, and I don't think people realize that, and it doesn't matter about your genetics. These aren't genetic disorders. These are environmental disorders causing genetic activation problems with your health.