A Mother’s Fight for a Healthy Home

I’m Dr. Adriana Hayward, and I am a survivor of an experience that I think every mother should be aware of.

Even as a doctor and a mother, the thought that a home could make my family sick was not on my radar screen in 2008, when we bought our dream home by the beach in California. But soon after moving in both my husband and I began to experience frequent cold and flu-like symptoms. As exhausted new parents of a 6-month old baby, we assumed we were just “adjusting” to life with an infant and went about our daily lives.

As the months went on, we felt worse. While we had some similar issues, we each experienced our home differently. I had constant sinus infections, experienced hives and hair loss, and was unable to get pregnant. My normally happy, energetic husband became depressed, anxious, and unable to work for more than a few hours a day and developed hypersensitivity to chemicals. We both experienced cognitive changes, including foggy thinking and difficulty finding words, difficulty sleeping and extreme fatigue. Even our three beloved dogs began to show physical reactions to the house.

Most worryingly, our baby also had constant respiratory infections and her growth slowed. But when we looked to the medical community for help we didn’t find it. Our daughter’s pediatrician told us he “didn’t believe in mold” and ignored our concerns even has her growth chart went from 97% to 3% over the year. Our own doctors often dismissed our complaints as normal or aging. At at time when we needed help the most, it was hard to find.

“Most worryingly, our baby also had constant respiratory infections and stopped growing.”

Even when we found an expert who discovered mold in the lower levels of the house, we were told not to worry, that remediation would be simple and really, it wasn’t even a problem, since the mold wasn’t in our ‘living space.”  We were aware that mold could be dangerous to our health, but we trusted the experts and were initially relieved and hopeful that this would solve our family’s health issues.

After paying for multiple remediation procedures that provided no improvement and having experts tell us repeatedly that the mold couldn’t get into our living space, we took matters into our own hands. Armed with an ordinary can of Lemon Pledge and our cell phones, my husband went to into our crawlspace while I stood one floor above. Less than 15 seconds after he sprayed the potent scent, I smelled it upstairs. We realized we were not at all removed from everything growing below and within the house. We may not have been going into our crawlspace, but our crawlspace was coming to us. After 16 months in our dream home, we evacuated.

“After 16 months in our dream home, we evacuated.”

Our home was just six years old when we moved in with no visible indicators of mold or water damage. In fact, it was a beautiful home with lovely finishes and details. We soon learned that beneath the surface, the house not only had inadequate waterproofing, insufficient drains, and leaking windows but also was rife with construction defects.

The great irony is that I am a clinical health psychologist and my husband runs a 4th generation lumber and building materials company and is a national leader in sustainability and building science. Yet we had no idea what was happening to us and the journey back to health was long and difficult.  

The Journey Towards a Healthy Home

We both became passionate researchers trying to figure out what had happened to our family. Accurate information was difficult to find, but what we did discover alarmed us. Outdoor pollutants are generally 5 times higher indoors where we spend 90% our time. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) found there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold as well as to damp indoor environments to a range of respiratory symptoms. The EPA classifies indoor air quality as a top risk to health and has said 50% of homes and schools have a problem due to mold and/or moisture.

Molds, MVOCs and mycotoxins (off-gassing from bacteria and fungi), bacteria and chemicals released from building materials cause an inflammatory response. As the body mounts a defense, there is a cascade effect. Cytokins, the immuno-modulating agents in the body, cross the blood brain barrier affecting major structures in the brain and altering neurotransmitters. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is then elevated causing further physiological and psychological depletion.

“Once we understood how buildings could destroy health, we committed to changing the status quo.”

Once we understood how buildings could destroy health we committed to changing the status quo, to help everyone have the healthy home they deserve. We’ve discovered it is possible to have a home that is regenerative to health by following four basic principles:  1) continuous fresh air, 2) proper sealing and insulation, 3) less-toxic materials, and 4) smooth, cleanable surfaces. All of these factors contribute to a truly healthy home.

We believe deeply that we can move towards homes that can support and protect human health. To that end, we launched Hayward Score, a free web-based tool that allows people to learn about the conditions in their homes with the potential to impact their health and the steps to take to remedy those conditions, so they can live in healthy homes. We don’t want anyone else to live in home that is making them sick. It is a huge goal. But we are achieving it one healthy home at a time.

Today, more than 32,000 people nationwide have gotten their Hayward Score and our numbers continue to grow each day. Get your Hayward Score today and get the healthy home that you deserve!

Watch Dr. Hayward’s video here.

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