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Woman with chemical allergies lives outdoors to avoid illness

Wednesday 19 March 2014

 

From Utah's KSL.com:

 

Vanessa Gaudette
Vanessa Gaudette
 

Woman with chemical allergies lives outdoors to avoid illness

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

By John Hollenhorst
February 12th, 2014 @ 7:00am

HELENA, Mont. — Life in a tent, especially in winter, may not be for everyone. But for one Montana woman it brings relief from a nightmare known as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.

Mainstream doctors are dubious about the diagnosis, but many people say they suffer from extreme sensitivity to household chemicals and fragrances.

Vanessa Gaudette has lived in a tent on and off for four years in Utah, California, Arizona and now Montana on the banks of the Missouri River.

She said she's spent about half her nights, over the last four years, sleeping outside because she cannot live in most houses without getting sick.

"To me, this is what I call a beautiful nightmare," Gaudette said. "I'm surrounded by incredible beauty, incredible peace. But I'm in the nightmare of homelessness and being alone."

Gaudette blames chemicals wafting from ordinary cleaning products, perfumes, hairspray, paints, solvents and almost anything you can name that she gets a whiff of.

"It's not a fragrance issue, it is not about odors, it's about the chemicals that are in our environment that people develop sensitivities to," she said.

This winter, a worried friend allowed Gaudette to sleep in her home a few nights each week. They totally cleaned the house to remove chemicals, but something still makes her sick.

"So far, what we've been able to determine is the carpeting is probably one of the major sources that is making me sick," Gaudette said. "Breathing problems, constant headaches, sinus congestion, sinus pain, chest pain."

So, when she stays in the friend's house, she spends a lot of time and all of her nights in a spare bathroom with clean, hard surfaces.

"It pretty much sucks. I would like to live normally and be able to sleep in a bed and sleep in a bedroom like everyone else. But this is the way it is for now," Gaudette said.

But Gaudette said she flees to her tent every few nights because of congestion, asthma attacks and excruciating joint pain.

"It's the most miserable possible thing anyone can think of," she said.

Gaudette said some people think the illness is all in her head.

"I've been called some terrible things by people, and people who don't even really know me," she said.

Medical science is divided on whether something with so many symptoms and causes could be a real illness.

"There is insufficient scientific evidence to confirm a relationship between any of these possible causes and symptoms," according to a statement by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

But a growing chorus of doctors and sufferers insists it's legitimate.

"There have been cases where we have proven that it is real," said Dr. Alfred Johnson of the controversial American Academy of Environmental Medicine.

Gaudette believes her illness began with on-the-job chemical exposures. She was fired because she couldn't work full-time.

"The hellish part of it is not being able to function in society, not being able to earn a living. I think that's the biggest thing that's really killing me is that I want to work," Gaudette said. "I want to be self-sufficient, and this illness is taking all that away from me."

She usually winters in warmer places like southern Utah, but this year she said she couldn't afford the cost of gas to travel from her home territory near Helena, Mont. She said her mother in Michigan is her strongest supporter and sends her $1,000 a month for her living expenses.

 

The above, with comments, originally appeared here.

 


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