By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPC, NCC
Some people say Mario Casella is nuts.
I've featured him twice before, and all along have been following what has become his life-or-death struggle against Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), also called Environmental Illness, which is defined on many health-related websites as a “chronic, recurring disease caused by a person's inability to tolerate an environmental chemical or class of foreign chemicals.”
In 2008, then muscular, 220-pound Casella was a Southern California sports bar bouncer when becoming repeatedly exposed to bleach in the bar's bathroom. In this column in 2013, he said about that exposure, “When breathing even a little bit, I'd get the most horrible, aching, burning feeling in my liver. Then I began feeling physically ill (overall) around chlorine, perfumes, cologne, car exhaust, and cigarette smoke. Then it got worse.”
In 2012, when he could no longer work, his wife divorced him. His weight plummeted to 96 pounds last year. Now he weighs 130.
Currently, he misses his old life every day. In a recent telephone interview, now 40-year-old Casella said, “I'm living in Patagonia, Arizona, where a lot of (environmentally affected) people come to get well. The environment is good here. We have the cleanest air in the country. They don't spread pesticides. Right now, I'm living at a guy's house that (was built) free of chemicals.”
He sleeps in a sleeping bag under an outdoors lean-to and near a shelter that has electricity from solar power, relatively close to six other people with MCS. He also has non-alcohol related liver disease, he said. His stress levels affect his ability to weather acute reactions to literally any chemical exposure.
“When going to the hospital, I have to wear a mask,” he said. “My doctors were suspicious of me at first, thinking I was a hypochondriac. But now I'm walking a tightrope because I'm so sensitive (to chemicals) and I'm trying to get my health in order. What's getting me through is remaining calm. I can tolerate doctors now environmentally and the hospital here isn't congested with people (who wear perfume, for example) and so it's tolerable. Unlike last year, I'm now able to recover from (chemical) exposure. Being here in the clean, open, fresh air has been sustaining me.”
He added, “I don't blame people for thinking I'm nuts. It's hard to understand. Even I don't understand it. I just know it's real.”
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