The kindness of a stranger has made all the difference for a local woman who recently found herself in need of a helping hand.
Thanks to a severe case of black mold, Diane Bush and her husband lost their home, all their belongings and nearly their lives, when their home near Smith Mountain Lake was condemned and scheduled for demolition.
"My husband and I are retired and have never been homeless or in financial need," said Bush. "No one ever prepares for something like this to happen. We had 72 hours to evacuate our home, and we had nowhere to go."
The couple had been experiencing strange health symptoms and found themselves sick all the time and going to visit their doctors frequently, Bush said.
"We have been sick for a year now," she said. "We began experiencing flu-like symptoms -- restlessness, headaches, sinus congestion, dizziness, joint and muscle pain and fatigue. We were also unfocused and disoriented with memory loss."
The couple visited doctor after doctor and soon found themselves in deep debt from the cost of doctors' visits and prescriptions.
"No one could figure out why we were so sick," Bush said.
Finally, a specialist in Lexington solved the puzzle. Blood work confirmed the couple had been exposed to black mold.
"I began to notice things in my home once I really started looking," said Bush. "I noticed dark spots on the walls in my kitchen and living room."
One day, a bedroom curtain fell to the floor and the couple was shocked at what was revealed on the wall behind it.
"To the right of the window, the whole wall opened up and it simply started crumbling and caving in right in front of our eyes," Bush said. "We finally saw for the first time what had been growing within our walls for no telling how long."
The couple began inspecting everything, moving furniture and pulling items from the cabinets.
"We were in shock," Bush said. "Our entire home was infested with black mold. It was growing on pictures we had hanging on the walls. It was growing on clothing in the backs of closets and even on Tupperware stored in the backs of our kitchen cabinets."
The couple was instructed to evacuate immediately and to take nothing with them. Homeowners insurance would not cover the damages and the house was condemned.
The couple has been struggling to start over ever since.
A recent trip to a local pharmacy to pick up several prescriptions lifted her spirits considerably, Bush said.
"I was down to my last dime, and my debit and credit cards were spent," she said. "I didn't know what to do as I needed my medicine and had no money to pay. I even prayed over my debit card and it still didn't work. I just stood there and cried."
Bush said the cashier told her that her prayer had been answered.
"I looked up and saw an arm above my head that held a green card," said Bush. "I turned around and bumped into a man in a blue shirt with a name tag that said 'Ron.' This gentleman paid for my medications and didn't even want to tell me his name. All I can say is that somewhere in Callaway, there is an angel named Ron and I will be forever thankful."
Black mold, or stachybotrys, is a fungus that can be found both indoors and outdoors year round. It thrives in warm, damp and humid conditions, and spreads and reproduces by making spores. Mold spores can survive harsh environmental conditions, such as dry conditions, that do not support normal mold growth, according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control).
Some symptoms of mold exposure are nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing or skin irritation. For people with more serious allergies to molds, fever and shortness of breath can occur. Individuals with chronic lung illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, may develop mold infections in their lungs.
The CDC offers the following suggestions for reducing mold growth in the home:
•Keep humidity levels as low as you can -- no higher than 50 percent -- all day long. An air conditioner or dehumidifier will help you keep the level low. Bear in mind that humidity levels change over the course of a day with changes in the moisture in the air and the air temperature, so you will need to check the humidity levels more than once a day.
•Use an air conditioner or a dehumidifier during humid months.
•Be sure the home has adequate ventilation, including exhaust fans.
•Add mold inhibitors to paints before application.
•Clean bathrooms with mold killing products.
•Do not carpet bathrooms and basements.
•Remove or replace previously soaked carpets and upholstery.
For more information about mold, exposure symptoms and contacts for removal, visit www.cdc.gov.