These four (4) posts -- The Lambs and
the Lions Series -- were posted
to a several internet newsgroups in early September 1999.
3/4 THE LAMBS AND THE LIONS:
The SBU "Questions of the Heart" PETITION and BOYCOTT
PART 3: People Article - Toxic Avenger, Cindy Duehring
Feb. 9, 1997 (Text Transcription)
Poisoned by pesticides, a prisoner in her home,
Cindy Duehring wages global war on chemicals
SIX DAYS A WEEK, CINDY DUEHRING rises, fixes
a breakfast of organic cereal, and then delves into
her life's work: enlightening the world about
toxic chemicals. The founder of Environmental
Access Research Network (EARN), Cindy Duehring,
35, has won international acclaim as a champion
of people suffering from chemical poisoning--in
December she received Sweden's Right Livelihood
Award, widely known as the alternative Nobel Prize.
She did not, however fly to Stockholm for the
honor. Far from it.
For the past eight years, Duehring hasn't stepped
outside, even once. Since 1989 Duehring has been
confined to a small house in the remote prairie
settlement of Long Creek, N.Dak., a prisoner of
her own excruciatingly severe case of multiple
chemical sensitivity, or MCS.
Her only visitors, her husband, mother and father,
must shower with detox soap and then don cotton
clothes kept in her house. They find an eerily
circumscribed realm: windows covered, furniture
cased in low-toxicity sealer, the air filtered.
"It's my iron lung," she says, half jokingly.
Twelve years ago, Duehring was exposed to a heavy
dose of pesticides used by exterminators in her
Seattle apartment. In the months that followed,
she began showing extreme sensitivity to much
of the world around her.
Today, any jolt to her senses sunlight, sharp
noises, a whiff of perfume can trigger seizures,
breathing problems and the risk of kidney failure.
She has no television or radio indeed, she can't
even speak, lest the sound of her own voice send
her into a convulsion.
"It used to be easy to enjoy life; now it's
harder," says Duehring, whom PEOPLE
interviewed by fax.
But while her physical world has shrunk, Duehring's
life has taken on a global reach. She answers some
500 research requests a month, writing articles
and legal briefs and researching specific questions
on medical and legal issues from doctors, scientists
and MCS sufferers in 32 countries, "exhibiting
determination to put her personal tragedy at the
service of humanity," as her Right Livelihood
citation puts it.
Accepting the honor and the $60,000 that came
with it was Duehring's husband of nine years,
Jim, 38, who, along with a small paid clerical
staff, assists in her work. In order to spend
more time with Cindy, Jim, formerly a Lutheran
pastor, resigned to become a teacher.
He lives in a cabin 500 feet from her home, which
houses her fax and other noisy office equipment,
and sees her on weekends. He's virtually her only
visitor. "I have faith that God will see us through
this," he says. (It was he who took the interior
pictures for this story.)
Sometimes Jim's detox precautions fall short: Last
autumn he unwittingly drove past a ditch that had
been sprayed for weeds; when he entered Cindy's
house, minute traces of the chemical on his skin
caused her to suffer a grand mal seizure. "It's
pretty tough to realize that I can literally make
my wife sick," he says, wincing.
To be sure, MCS is a strange malady. An estimated
15 percent of Americans may have some form of
sensitivity to more than 75,000 chemicals in
The disorder is not widely understood; indeed,
because MCS effects rarely show up on routine
medical tests, patient complaints are widely
dismissed as psychosomatic. "Ninety-nine percent
of doctors know little about it they send the
patient off to see a psychiatrist," says Seattle
allergist Dr. Gordon Baker, who has treated
thousands of MCS patients.
For the past five years Duehring has been consulting
with Dr. Gunnar Heuser, a Thousand Oaks, Calif.,
specialist in chemical exposure, who nominated her
for the Right Livelihood Award. "As her physical
boundaries have narrowed, her spirit has taken wing,"
says Heuser, who used to speak to Duehring by phone,
but now communicates with her by fax.
Ironically, Duehring was the picture of health
growing up in Bismarck, N.Dak., the younger daughter
of building contractor Don Froeschle and his wife,
Jan, a homemaker. In high school, she was a
juggernaut, valedictorian, tennis star, first
chair clarinet, lead in the school play.
"She was a cutup," says Noreen Linke, an old friend.
"She could have been an actress, a comedian, a singer."
But Duehring longed to he a doctor and began pre-med
studies at Pacific Lutheran University, in Tacoma,
Wash. In 1985, her final year, she found her new
apartment infested with fleas and her life took
its ghastly turn.
Duehring says her exterminator assured her that
his bug bomb was so safe "a baby could lick it
off the floor." Nevertheless she developed
mysterious symptoms: fever, nausea, diarrhea
and violent seizures. It was months before she
was diagnosed with pesticide poisoning.
"In hindsight, I think, 'Why didn't we get her out
of that apartment?' " says her mother, who visits
Duehring several times a year.
Resolving to offer chemically injured patients a
low-cost information bank, Duehring started EARN
in 1986. "By the time they contact us, most are so
ill they are unable to work," she says. "Their
careers have been destroyed, their savings wiped
out, and their lives as they once knew them ripped
She met Jim Duehring in Bismarck that same year,
when she could still go outside. "Our senses of
humor meshed well," she says. "We became good
friends and fell in love." They married in a brief
church ceremony in 1988. "My oxygen tank had to be
up front with me in case of a bronchial reaction,"
she recalls. "I hung a basket of silk flowers on it."
Shortly thereafter, Jim and her father built her
Long Creek home. Duehring's drinking water is
filtered, distilled, then boiled. She cooks meals
from organic ingredients dropped off often by her
mother and left to air out in a special entryway.
Even in this hermetic environment, however,
Duehring's health has steadily declined. The
cruelest blow struck last May, when her heightened
susceptibility to sound-induced seizures forced
her into silence. "It ripped an unbelievable hole
in my life," she says. Worst of all was the loss
of the telephone, a treasured link to the outside
world: "It is like grieving a death."
For now, she takes solace in her weekends with
Jim. Unable to laugh or speak aloud, the couple
still share one silent, priceless form of human
contact. "Our all-time favorite thing to do is
cuddle," Cindy says. "When we hold each other,
we are content."
*Margaret Nelson in Long Creek
THE LAMBS AND THE LIONS SERIES
~~Part 1~~ * ~~Part 2~~ * ~~Part 3~~ * ~~Part 4~~
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