Ian leaves Southwest Florida homes with mold

Reporter: Kellie Miller

Mold and mildew have taken over thousands of homes across Southwest Florida. It’s a nightmare that many, including Nancy George, can’t seem to wake up from.

“It gets into everything,” she said. “It’s in the walls, it’s in the floors, and it could be in the ceilings because most of them have been closed up for so long.”

The place Nancy once called home is now covered in mold, past the point of repair. Her boyfriend’s house down the street is also covered in mold.

“Mold is a huge problem here, for everybody,” Nancy said. “Almost all of these homes are gone because of the mold.”

For now, Nancy is living in a camper with her boyfriend outside his home. They are both still waiting for FEMA disaster assistance money.

“I’m at the mercy of the Christian companies now to see if they will come and help me remove stuff,” Nancy said.

It’s a tough situation for Nancy as she deals with a chronic health condition.

“Like I said, I have COPD, I can’t be in anything that’s growing mold,” she said.

Nancy knows she’s not the only person dealing with mold in Southwest Florida, but she’s eager for help.

“I would like to see us get towards at least moving into something solid and sound,” she said.

Mold spreads fast and it’s not something to play around with, especially when you already have a compromised immune system.

“Being in that environment and breathing in those spores is very common and very toxic,” said Dr. Eddie Maristany, co-director of Naples Center for Functional Medicine.

Maristany is a board-certified internal medicine physician and one of 1,200 Institute of Functional Medicine Certified practitioners (IFMCP) worldwide.

“Functional medicine is an emerging field in which we as physicians are actually looking at what’s the root cause for disease,” Dr. Maristany said.

When it comes to fighting mold toxicity, Maristany said functional medicine may be a patient’s saving grace.

“Doctors in functional medicine are saying, why are we not testing actual mycotoxin levels, and can we get rid of mycotoxins,” he said.

Mycotoxins are harmful substances that come from mold, and lead to an array of health problems such as chronic headaches, colds, and sore throat. Dr. Maristany often tests mold-exposed patients for mycotoxins, and helps the patient get rid of them as quickly as possible.

“I know people that had mold exposure five years ago, and they come to our office and they are still sick,” he said.

Dr. Maristany showed me the labs from a patient he treated in 2020. He tested the patient’s toxin levels, which were shockingly high.

“He had a ton of this toxin called mycophenolic acid,” Dr. Maristany said. “Regular levels are less than 37 and his was 3,383.”

It was clear why that young, seemingly healthy patient always felt sick, tired, and achy. His immune system was fighting mold.

“One of the most common symptoms of mold toxicity is immune dysregulation…because it’s fighting mold, it doesn’t have any troops left,” he said. “The front-line is lacking…all the troops were fighting another country–the mold.”

After just four months of taking mold binders, which essentially are substances that help your body get rid of toxins, the patient’s health improved dramatically.

“So basically, it took over a year but we cleared all of the mycotoxins from his system,” Dr. Maristany said.

It was a remarkable recovery for a patient who felt sick most of his adult life.

“That’s the beauty of functional medicine…we are trying to really go underneath and go a little bit deeper in our standard of care,” Dr. Maristany said.

Dr. Maristany expects a surge in mold-related illnesses this year, as people recover from Hurricane Ian. His goal is to raise awareness that testing and treatment are available in the functional medicine space.

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