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Got mold? Pay attention!

A Cromwell family has faced a major trial in their lives, and thanks to the help of their church and their community, they are well on their way to surmounting it.

A Cromwell family has faced a major trial in their lives, and thanks to the help of their church and their community, they are well on their way to surmounting it.

Roger and Mary Rose Varo and their two children were forced from their home last November after discovering that their recurring health problems were being caused by mold. Following testing, the old farmhouse they lived in was deemed uninhabitable, and many of their furnishings and other belongings were ruined as well.

The Varos first bought the old farmhouse in rural Cromwell in 2001, which Mary Rose described as "a charming, cottage-type house with kind of a typical 'old, musty' smell to it." Since the house appeared to be dry and fairly sound, however, they never gave it much of a second thought - that is, until Mary Rose began to suffer from allergies when the house was closed up in the fall.

"I had burning eyes, with lots of itching and sneezing," she explained. "My allergies had never been so bad in all my life," commented Varo.

As the house got drier after the family started using the wood stove, her allergy symptoms began to mediate somewhat as the winter season wore on. Since the basement in the house didn't show any signs of moisture, Mary Rose never made the connection with something in the house as the possible cause for her respiratory distress. She did, however, track that experience in the back of her mind, and when her symptoms came back the following fall and became more progressive over time, the nagging feeling in the back of her mind continued to haunt her.

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Then, the subject of mold came up in various conversations with her friends, and it was Mary Rose's niece who suggested she might want to take that concern to heart.

"There was really bad mold in a house my niece bought in Hibbing two years ago," explained Mary Rose. "She didn't know about it at first, but when her three kids started getting sick, other people commented to her, 'Didn't anyone tell you that house is full of mold?'"

As it turned out, the house, which had been built in the 1800s, harbored a mold problem that had become pretty severe.

Varo said her niece's family rallied around her and urged her to evacuate the house, which she did. Along the way, however, she learned a whole lot about the insidious nature of mold and the effects it can have on a house and the people who live there.

Varo was justifiably worried, therefore, when not only her own symptoms persisted, but her five-year-old son, Tanner, began to develop asthma-like symptoms as well. His asthma became progressively worse, and one day he made a telling remark to his mom and dad, telling them he "always felt better when he was at school."

In the meantime, Mary Rose's condition worsened as well. She had developed a "funny cough" last January that just didn't want to go away, and a trip to the doctor didn't reveal any conclusive results. By last June, the cough had become more like a "smoker's hack" and she had to sleep with the window open because she was experiencing a "choking feeling," she said, "like my throat was swelling up."

Tanner had to take periodic doses of Prednisone and rely on inhalers to relieve his symptoms, which Mary Rose said had since become "really bad and weren't going away."

Then, the baby began to exhibit an asthma-like cough last October.

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Following a visit to the emergency room with Tanner for his asthma, Mary Rose and Roger decided they had to get to the root of the problem once and for all. Mary Rose asked her niece how she went about having her house tested for mold and was told she had contacted a man by the name of Norbert Norman from the University of Minnesota - Duluth, who was an expert in workplace safety as it relates to exposure to toxic chemicals.

When Norman came in to the Varos' house, however, his initial impression was that though "something was definitely going on [with mold]" he didn't think it was all that bad since there wasn't a lot of visible evidence of mold or moisture, stating he thought perhaps taking up the carpet might solve the problem. When he proceeded to do a series of air samples in the home, however, he found mold levels "bad enough to be significant," related Mary Rose.

"He explained that not all black molds are bad," she said. "That's sort of a blanket term that covers many species. Certain species are bad in and of themselves, and with others, it depends on what they're growing on that can make them bad for you. All of them are progressive and when they become really bad, they don't go away."

In the meantime, Mary Rose had to take a prescheduled trip to California for a couple of days, during which her symptoms began to clear up.

"They were back within half an hour of the time I returned home," she related.

When the test results were conclusive regarding the severity of the mold in their house, the family immediately moved out and into a house hat was for sale at the time owned by one of their fellow church members. Mary Rose's symptoms completely cleared up within three days, and Tanner was better within a week. Neither has had a relapse since that time - except for one day when Roger returned to the old house to do the laundry, bringing Tanner with him.

"By the end of that day, Tanner had his asthma cough back again," said Mary Rose.

Not only were the Varos without their house - but also many of the furnishings such as the couches, upholstered chairs and beds were unusable because of mold growth, and they discovered that mold had even begun to grow on one of their wooden chairs as well.

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Norman explained the only thing that can be done to abate mold growth is to eliminate the source of moisture, light and food that the mold thrives on because otherwise it lies dormant and doesn't go away - a costly prospect that would involve, among other things, jacking up the house and putting in a new basement. And even then, it's possible the mold might still remain in the walls.

Recently, the temporary house the Varos had been living in was sold, and once again, through some extraordinary good luck, caring friends and the grace of God, they were able to secure a double-wide trailer to put on the land where their house was located.

They're not on solid footing just yet, however. Not only did they lose most of the furnishings of their home, but they discovered their insurance does not cover the mold situation they're facing, and expenses are mounting.

But now, the love and support of a community continues. The women of Bethany Lutheran Church, where the Varos have been members since last summer, plan to host a pancake breakfast, fish pond and silent auction on Saturday, Mar. 17, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Cromwell Park Pavilion to help raise funds to assist the Varo family.

A special account has also been set up at Northview Bank. Donations can be sent to Varo Benefit Fund, P. O. Box 68, Cromwell, MN 55726.

"It's all been pretty unbelievable!" summed up Mary Rose.

Pine Journal Publisher/ reporter Wendy Johnson can be contacted at: wjohnson@pinejournal.com .

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