Our homes should be refuges from the world, but during the height of the pandemic, Claire Rudolph found her home was the cause of her mystery illness.
She and her husband had recently moved for more space to accommodate them both working from home. But a few months after moving in, a host of odd symptoms began for Claire. Her cheeks and the tips of her ears would get flushed and hot. New pain crept into her knees along with extreme sensitivity to cold. Plus, she felt excessively tired, despite sleeping a lot.
And the avid distance runner noticed new shortness of breath, even just taking their new puppy out for a walk.
Then, she started losing her train of thought.
“My memory started to get a lot worse, and it got so bad that I started forgetting basic words,” she recalls. “In my work and just in your life, you need to be able to communicate. And I would just struggle to remember very basic words and phrases. It was like everything was on the tip of my tongue and I couldn’t access it. And so I started really feeling like I was kind of losing my mind.”
Doctors ran a battery of tests, but they all looked normal.
“You get all these tests and you’re told it looks great, and you’re like, OK, but I feel awful,” she says.
Given her clean lab work, she questioned whether her symptoms were due to the isolation of the pandemic or being at home all the time. But her gut instinct told her it was more.
These weren’t the first red flags in Claire’s health. The previous year or so had brought other new ailments.
First, it was hot, itchy, swollen toes, which led to a diagnosis of “COVID toes” – despite never having the virus.
“I pushed for more testing and that’s when I started to see some elevated levels of autoimmune-specific markers. And that sort of kicked off this multi-year health journey,” she says.
Her doctor labeled the autoimmunity as “undifferentiated connective tissue disease,” but stopped short of an actual diagnosis. While the doctor said not to worry about it, Claire wanted more answers. She had spent the past few years watching her sister, Ellen, struggle with deteriorating and debilitating illness that was ultimately diagnosed as autoimmunity.
Ellen had found her way back with lifestyle changes and functional medicine, a root-cause approach to health. Ellen’s experience had led them to start WellTheory, an evidence-based nutrition and lifestyle coaching membership to reduce autoimmune symptoms.
Because of Ellen’s experience, Claire knew she needed to take a deeper dive than what doctors might have to offer.
“On average, it takes four and a half years and five different doctors to receive a proper diagnosis,” Claire says. “I was really lucky that I had watched my sister go through her journey and find her way to functional medicine. So that really helped me take some shortcuts in my own journey.”
High Levels of Toxic Mold
She soon found Dr. Annemieke Austin, an integrative and functional medicine doctor who listened with an empathetic ear and committed to helping her find answers. Given Claire’s symptoms, Dr. Austin ran testing for mold.
“I took the RealTime Labs mycotoxin test and that came back lit up like a Christmas tree,” she says. “And I was like, OK, we might have found it. The levels were four to five times what a normal person might have.”
A quick Google search for mold illness listed neurological problems that hit home for Claire, including memory loss and brain fog.
Thinking back, Claire recalls mentioning a musty smell to the property manager when they toured the house prior to moving in, but the agent attributed it to closed windows. However, when she ran an ERMI mold test on her home, that too came back high – nearly the maximum possible levels for mold.
The Steps to Healing
Moving forward, Claire sought help from both Dr. Austin along with industry-leading mold expert and author, Dr. Neil Nathan. She also turned to a nutritionist at WellTheory for physical and emotional support through her recovery.
“I’m actually WellTheory’s official first member,” she laughs. “I’m the head of product and really believe in kind of testing out your own product.”
To clear mold from her system, Claire began taking antifungals and binders that literally bind and draw out the specific mycotoxins found on Claire’s tests. But she had to take it slow to avoid feeling worse as toxins were mobilized.
To take the burden off her body, Claire followed an anti-inflammatory diet. Initially, that was the autoimmune protocol diet (AIP), which was then modified for her own sensitivities. Over time, she brought back all foods except gluten.
On Dr. Nathan’s recommendation, she also worked on retraining her nervous system and limbic system to shake off the body’s perceived threat to safety that a chronic illness can trigger. Dr. Nathan recommended the book, “Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve” by Stanley Rosenberg, and limbic retraining using the Gupta program.
Along the way, Claire found vital support from WellTheory’s nutritionists and health coaches working together to help identify and stick to lifestyle changes.
Holding Hope for a Full Recovery
With focused effort, Claire has come a long way and is grateful to have recovered much of her energy and mental clarity.
“I’m doing a lot better and I’m confident that by the end of this calendar year, I’ll be mold-free,” she says. “One thing I’ve learned is that… our health journey’s always longer than you wish it was, and things take a long time. It’s really important to have someone who can hold the hope for you when you don’t have it. So I think having somebody who can see it for you or can kind of say, ‘Hey, it’s right around the corner over there. I can see it coming,’ is really crucial.”
Practitioners mentioned in the interview:
The Gupta program for limbic retraining
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