Casella Not Ready to Give Up
Mario Casella sleeps outside under the stars in Texas, getting through the night in a sleeping bag and doing what he can to survive.
He had a "normal" life until 2008, he said, the year he began having a physical reaction to all kinds of chemicals and also feeling the effects of liver disease brought on by poor lifestyle choices made years earlier.
Back then, he was a muscular sports bar bouncer in Southern California, a bulky 220 pounds. Today, he's 120 pounds, and dying.
As for reactions to chemicals, he first reacted to bleach used in the bar's bathroom. In a telephone interview, 39-year-old Casella said, "When breathing even a little bit, I'd get the most horrible, aching, burning feeling in my liver. Then I began feeling physically ill being around chlorine, perfumes, cologne, car exhaust, and cigarette smoke. Then it got worse."
He soon had to quit work, and became a stay-at-home dad for his son, Anthony. His symptoms worsened yet. His wife wasn't supportive when he became bedridden in 2012 and they divorced. Eventually, physicians diagnosed Casella with liver disease and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). It reached the point where Casella couldn't live indoors at his father's house because of an acute sensitivity to chemicals of any strength, and couldn't live outdoors because of neighbors venting air laced with dryer sheet fragrances.
Then Casella discovered planetthrive.com, a website for MCS-affected people. He said, "Through it, I reached out to people all over the world. I was going to kill myself. Then a woman (in Arizona) heard my story and took me in."
When that woman became ill, Casella had to leave. A Missouri woman helped him find an environmentally safe community in Texas, where he now lives outdoors to avoid contact with chemicals of any strength. As for MCS, Casella was showing swift, dramatic improvement until November, when his liver disease unexpectedly worsened.
Due to the certainty of physically reacting to hospital chemicals should he see a physician, he hasn't sought medical care. He can barely walk and drinks only distilled water. A woman in the community has become his girlfriend. She is blind and also has MCS.
About MCS, he said, "It's a very real illness. You can't really understand unless you have it. I miss my old life every day. But I'm a fighter and I'm not ready to give up."
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Daniel J. Vance is a licensed professional counselor and national certified counselor from Vernon Center, Minn. His weekly newspaper column Disabilities has been published in more than 260 newspapers.
Daniel J. Vance may be reached at www.danieljvance.com