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QUESTION: Do you know any good OH&S - tox doctors for Ranelagh Tasmania area? 10 Dec 2007 NSW, Australia

 I am a 45 year old mother of three children.  I have worked most of my life except when recovering and in the final stages of pregnancy.  I have been ill for the last eight years and am progressively getting worse.

In Nov 1999 I suffered a stroke whilst in the midst of working 7-8 hours per day, caring for two young children and one older child, maintaining a home with all the duties attached to that, helping my husband to care for his aged and seriously ill parents and trying to help the local child care centre from being taken over by the local council.  I was performing all my other duties and then attending meetings to form a committee of voluntary members of the community to run the creche as a non profit organisation that concentrated on quality of care rather than a profit producing body which is what the council have now made it.  Unfortunately the stroke I had coincided with the receivers and managers coming in to make their assessment of the situation and !

I was unavailable to argue our case thus the loss of a very good child care facility in fact the only one in the area that I live in ie. the Huon Valley.  I was treated for the stroke and was making a recovery from it when I began to experience severe pain in my hands, fingers and wrists that then progressed to the muscles in my arms and shoulders and neck.  Next my feet began to cause me pain which seemed to creep up to my ankles, knees and hips.  At the same time I became very tired.

My GP concluded that I had Rheumatoid arthritis and referred me to see a Rheumatologist the earliest appointment she could get me was three months away and I was in chronic pain and trying to continue to care for my children one of which was in nappies and work as I could manage at home as I had moved the office for the business to our home and employed a bookkeeper to do the work I had until recently been doing.  I still needed to supervise her work as she was unfamiliar with the requirements of the business.  In an effort to help me my GP prescribed prednisolone to reduce the inflammation of my muscles which had continued to get worse.

The business I worked in was a service station and repair garage.  I began work with my husbands father who then owned the business and my duties included all bookkeeping, accounting, stock control, payroll, banking etc and serving fuel as it was a country service station and our clients were used to being served and greeted with a friendly face.  Most of our customers were local people from the surrounding area the balance being seasonal tourists and holidaying families.  As a result of the prednisolone my GP had given me I developed severe stomach pain and heart burn and my GP decided that yes I had an ulcer and treated me with an ulcer medication that should have cleared up the problem easily unfortunately unbeknown to me I was allergic to the medication and ended up in hospital with my kidneys and liver threatening to stop functioning and my veins collapsing and in a worse mess.  A specialist was called in when it became apparent that there was much more wrong with me than the ulcer and subsequent allergic reaction.  He spent four years treating me for various diseases that he was convinced I had to no avail.  I then insisted on being referred to interstate doctors in the hope that they could determine what was wrong with me and spent quite some time going in and out of St Vincents Hospital being investigated for the problem that seemed to have no answer.

This culminated in the removal of my Thymus Gland in Feb 2005 and then a wait for the miraculous recovery from my illness that did not come.  In the meantime I saw a lady GP on an unrelated or, investigation.  The test came back and sure enough I had very high levels of lead, cadmium and aluminium.  She then referred me on to Dr G Schwartz for treatment.  Dr Schwartz wanted to do a chelation test to confirm the lead levels that showed up on the hair analysis but the practice would not allow him to carry out the test, consequently I finally ended up at Dr R Cooper's practice to have the test done.

I have an unfortunate tendency to allergic reactions to many substances which has made treatment of me very hard.  One of these is sulphur which is an integral part of the majority of treatments to chelate the heavy metal from me.  My lead level by chelation test is 39 mcg/mg.

Subsequent investigation has revealed that the office I worked in had extremely high levels of all the chemicals that showed up in the hair analysis, The stock room I worked in was full of this heavily laden dust and as I did stock takes and found and gave stock to customers I was breathing in the dust on a regular basis unaware that there was anything wrong with it.

The motor vehicles that my husband worked on every day of necessity had to be running and the fumes from the vehicles was highly concentrated in the office because it is situated inside the shed and for the first few years that I worked and served fuel it was still the old standard petrol laden with lead so I was breathing in the fumes from that as well as being doused at regular intervals in it as the old filling hoses and receptacle tubes were not the best when it came to keeping the fuel in the tank and not everywhere else.  I also had to hand mix cans of lawn mower fuel to correct specifications to suit the equipment being used and served Diesel fuel.

I was unaware that the fumes were dangerous and so when I fell pregnant with our youngest child I continued to work until it became to uncomfortable to continue and returned to work soon after his birth and horror of horror's sat and breast fed him in the storeroom that was so laden with dangerous dust and then put him to sleep in the room in a port-a-cot amongst the dust and the car exhaust fumes.

He has just had a chelation test as his hair test showed levels of about half of mine and the doctors have been anxious to try to get treatment going with me before beginning on my son and also we have had a serious lack of funds to pay for these treatments as they are  not covered by Medicare or our health fund and so much money has gone on getting me to the stage that I am now that we have been scratching to pay normal house accounts.

In March 2000 my husband and I had planned to take over the business from his father as he had had two major strokes by this stage and was unable to work at all.

The doctors kept promising that within six months I would be fit and well again so we attempted to soldier on.

My husband has taken the brunt of the workload having to care for me and the children and run the business.

Both his parents passed away suddenly as did my grandparents who were elderly and both very ill.

We have no family support as both my husbands sister and my sister and father live interstate and cannot help.

We have just managed to sell a block of land that my husband inherited from his father and hopefully this will pay for the next round of treatment that Dr Cooper wants to try as everything else has made me worse.

Can you tell me is there a mainstream method of treatment for this problem? I have queried my local GP who share treats me at the present as Dr Cooper is some 45 km from where we live and I cannot drive in fact most days I find it nearly impossible to walk.  I have spent the last twelve months basically bedridden.  I am exhausted by the time my husband has bathed and dried me. I am battling to reduce the prednisolone and stop taking it as it has doubled my body weight and I know that it is a dangerous ,medication to take long term.

Any information that you can give me would be gratefully accepted.  I worry constantly about what the lead has done to my son and can see myself that things are not right with him but I am so caught up in my own battle that there is little I can do to help him apart from tell him how much I love him ! and assure him that everything will be alright in the end eve! n though I know that this is probably not true.

I look forward to any advice you can give me.

Regards Tracy‍

ANSWER 12 May 2009

Dear Tracy,

Reading your e-mail, and what you did before being ill, I think you're a real hero and you can get through all that. I really hope you are much better now and that you have improved on Dr Cooper's new treatment. I tried to call you this morning, which I got from the white pages, but no one answered. I hope you can call me back or send me an e-mail because I have a lot of questions for you, like;

  • Have you had your blood level checked?
  • When you were diagnosed with Rheumatoid arthritis, did you have rheumatoid factor +ve?
  • During the treatment with prednisolone, are you taking anything for your stomach?
  • Did the rheumatologist treat you with a drug called "methotrexate" or tell you that you could not be given that drug for any reasons?
  • How are your kidney function tests?
And, regarding your son,
  • What did you mean by things were not alright with him? Have you tried testing his blood lead level?

I hope to hear from you soon,

Wish you all the best.


Iman Hegazi, MBBS, MD. Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, Volunteer

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