This past week 2 young children in Alberta, Canada died from pesticides used in their home. Because I too have experienced the devastation caused by pesticide poisoning, I feel compelled to share this story I wrote many years ago. Today I am remembering Cindy Duehring.
When I first became chemically injured, I was guided to Cindy Duehring who lived in a small rural community in North Dakota. Like me, Cindy had also been poisoned by pesticides and the continual assault on her system by toxins in her community forced her to live in isolation as well. She was a great source of hope and encouragement. Whenever I spoke with her I came away with new courage to face the day. Those were difficult times of adjusting to chronic illness and disability, and she helped me to go on.
Cindy had been a brilliant pre-med student when her apartment got sprayed. Before that, she had been extremely healthy, active in sports, and pursuing a degree in medicine. The poisoning caused a steady deterioration in her health including a seizure disorder, reactive airways dysfunction, peripheral neuropathy, fibromyalgia, and a disorder of porphyrin metabolism, as well as auto-immune, kidney, and neurologic damage. Even low level exposures to chemicals caused seizures and severe bronchial reactions so that she had to live in a specially created environment with windows covered over with foil to protect her from sunlight which triggered a reaction. Cindy had not left her space or even seen the sun shine for eight years.
In spite of all the obstacles, Cindy used her gifts to assist others with MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivities). She developed a service called EARN — Environmental Access Research Network), editing and writing medical and legal briefs to educate doctors and attorneys about the health hazards of toxic chemicals, and assisting thousands of individuals with MCS. Cindy used her illness in a miraculous way to build awareness of the MCS condition, pouring over thousands of medical documents seeking the possible link that would tie things all together. She found many. In 1994 she and Cynthia Wilson, director of the Chemical Injury Information Network, were commissioned to write a white paper “The Human Consequences of the Chemical Problem”, explaining the impact chemicals have on health issues, and the lack of information and understanding of the medical community. This was presented to White House staff and government organizations in the U.S.
Although her own community gave her very little support, she was esteemed by others and we loved her. In 1997 Cindy was given the Right Livelihood Award, the alternative Nobel Prize in Sweden, for her humanitarian work. It is a rare occasion for a first-time nominee to even be considered for the award, let alone to actually win it. People Magazine reported on her award, giving a global platform to MCS health issues for the first time. MCS is a condition that cuts across every social, economic and educational background and is growing at an alarming rate in both industrial and rural populations. It is especially disturbing that with successive exposures the illness progresses, causing serious injuries to every organ system. People’s lives are ripped apart as their careers are destroyed, their finances wiped out, and they live in desperation, searching for a place to live that is free from chemical exposure which triggers further reactions.
As it came to pass, her own community began to shun her. They seemed to look upon her as a nuisance and ignored her needs for a safe environment. Her health began to deteriorate. I missed her joyful spirit and the love that flowed through her. I missed her bright, witty comments, and the laughter that seemed to sing through one’s soul. She spent the next three years not able to talk or listen anymore. Even the sound from her own voice caused seizures. She was not able to be with her husband for more that a few minutes a week. In the end, her neuropathy was so severe she could barely walk even with a walker. She suffered bronchial shutdown, intense pain, pleurisy, and internal inflammation so that she could not lie down, and her seizures gave her no rest.
The dying process for those with MCS is especially difficult, for eventually we can no longer tolerate any pain relievers. Most commit suicide.
In 1999, Cindy found peace at last ~ as she passed into eternal life.
God, I still miss her.
Twenty years ago while joyfully serving as a pastor, I was chemically injured by pesticides sprayed on the church property. Life as I had known it was whisked away. I continue to live with health challenges every day.