Over the next several weeks I will be featuring excerpts from my book,
Gardening Nude, which are stories about real live people who have decided to
live greener and healthier lives.
This particular story was one of the most difficult I have ever written. I still cry over it - I hope it will inspire you to go green.
GN Book Excerpt - - Chemicals are Poison - The Legacy of Katherine, Queen of the Tot-Fairies
There is an incredible family I have met that has inspired me in many ways. Jean-Marie Kauth, PhD. is an Assistant Professor at a university and her husband, Craig W. Colling, PhD., works as a chemical engineer. For over seventeen years Jean-Marie and Craig have worked tirelessly to provide a chemical-free and environmentally-friendly home for themselves and for their children. Perhaps because of their work history, they are both uniquely clued-in to provide an eco-friendly place for their family to live and play in comfort.
They practice a vigorous schedule of greening with words like "reduce, reuse, and recycle" being common discussion within their family. Jean-Marie and Craig work to use less chemicals within their household and on their lawn, leave windows open in the summer to conserve energy instead of using air-conditioning, and use less natural resources wherever they can.
Meeting them has been an inspiration. They practice far better conservation techniques than I do--I have learned from them. They have also endured an overwhelming environmental tragedy. More than any other message in this book I hope their message gets through to you so a similar tragedy will not happen to your family.
The community they lived in practiced night-time pesticide spraying, but Jean-Marie and Craig were unaware of this. They were never notified of the spraying. Soon after the regular spraying of the pesticides occurred, Jean-Marie and Craig began to see their entire family, but most specifically, their daughter, Katherine, become seriously ill.
(To continue reading this story, please push the link for the next page)
In 1997 the couple's son and daughter went through unexplained severe asthma episodes. This led to long-term breathing treatments at a local clinic. Katherine began exhibiting other symptoms such as fatigue and fevers. In July of that year Katherine was diagnosed with Leukemia. The family immediately began treatment for Katherine's cancer, and she did well until the next summer.
The summer of 1999 was traumatic for Katherine as she had another relapse. The doctors were enormously surprised as she had been doing so well. Jean- Marie and Craig began to wonder why Katherine was severely ill only during the summer. She was desperately sick that summer and nearly died from several infections that attacked her weakened system. Katherine suffered terribly, but still, she survived.
In November of that year she had to have a bone marrow transplant. This was followed by intense chemotherapy and radiation; she lost every hair on her body and had to be on morphine for the pain from the radiation damage in her esophagus. There was more illness, so much more. The family had to split up while Katherine lived at the Ronald McDonald House in Milwaukee for four months during treatment. They watched the other children and their friends in the house die from the illnesses they were being treated for. It was tragic and difficult for Katherine, yet still she lived. Her strength of will surpassed anything the family could imagine.
Then in August of 2000 Craig and Jean-Marie were lying in bed at their home trying to think of ways to protect Katherine further. They had installed a reverse osmosis water filter and a HEPA air filter and were trying to eat mostly organic vegetables to avoid chemical residues. Jean-Marie said, "We kept our windows open at night to get the good quality air circulated. At about 11:00 PM we heard a strange buzzing noise outside our window. We had heard the sound occasionally before, but had always though the city was sweeping the streets. However, a few days before we had heard rumors that they sprayed the forest preserve with a pesticide and we put two and two together." With the sudden realization that toxic pesticides might be making their family ill, they leapt into a panic.
Calling the police, the couple found out the city was spraying pesticides to kill mosquitoes. Jean-Marie burst into tears and begged them to stop the spraying. Police arrived at her house shortly thereafter, and the couple went out to greet the officer and could smell the odor of what were the pesticides. The officer tracked down the truck and brought back a flyer. After investigation, it turned out that the company was using Dursban, a dangerous chemical known to be particularly toxic to children. Jean-Marie's hope for her daughter faltered. She said about the incident, "I was certain that this was it; Katherine's hard-earned last chance was gone."
Craig and Jean-Marie began a full-out plea to the city to stop the spraying. They felt strongly that the city had violated their property with the pesticides, effectively spraying full-strength carcinogenic chemicals into their windows without informing them of the effects. Both Craig and Jean-Marie spent hours and hours researching and bringing detailed toxicology information to the city, the state, and the Environmental Protection Agency. The chemical company refused to speak with the couple, saying it was in their right to sell the product for the use dictated.
It was Katherine's desire to live a full life where she did not have to suffer and neither would any other children. Little Katherine, after suffering more pain and trauma than most adults can imagine, helped form a plan with her parents to get the word out on pesticide spraying. Katherine knew that one person could make a difference. With her family, she mobilized her family and community to distribute "stop pesticide spraying" flyers all around her city. Her insightful quote about government decision makers who decide to continue to spray toxic chemicals even when they know it can hurt people: "But don't they love their children?"
Katherine, in an amazing testimony to the power of her belief that one person can make a difference, walked door-to-door with her family and friends to distribute the flyers even though she was quite ill. It was time well-spent because that November, there was a ballot initiative for the city, and 75% of the voting citizens opposed supporting on-going mosquito spraying. It was a small and sad victory for Katherine's family, but an enormous victory for the other children in the community who might have become ill because of the spraying. One person can make a difference. Katherine made a difference for all those other people who might have been exposed to a carcinogenic environmental hazard.
Katherine's suffering because of her cancer was extensive, and sadly, soon became worse. Chemotherapy had to be used to kill the leukemia cells. Her parents watched as she screamed in pain because the chemotherapy had destroyed her intestines; she lost all her hair and eyelashes, her belly was swollen and she had wasted away. She spent her seventh year secluded in a room at the hospital lonely and in pain. Finally, after she recovered from the last round of chemotherapy in 2001, Katherine was able to experience a semi-normal life and second grade at a real school. It was her dream come true. She made friends and laughed again; Katherine was finally able to touch and live life.
Jean-Marie built a fairy garden for Katherine so she would be able to experience nature more closely. Katherine dictated several books to her mother, all based on "Katherine, Queen of the Tot-Fairies." Her mother is currently illustrating them in hopes of publishing them to inspire others. They are stories of a little girl's love of nature and her hope that all children can be free of pain and illness and experience nature and the world more closely.
Katherine's desire was the same as her parents: that the place we live in be safe for everyone. Living in a toxic environment is something many do without ever realizing it. Local governments, corporations, and private citizens spray chemicals without understanding the deadly effects. Chemicals can be invisible and odorless, but very deadly to insects, animals, fish and humans. There are many chemicals humans are exposed to which are known to cause various forms of cancer. When I researched the names of some of these chemicals and learned more about them to see how Jean-Marie and Craig's family might have been poisoned, I was down-right shocked. If you do not know what types of chemicals are publicly used in your community, it is time for you to contact your local government and find out.
The National Cancer Institute says that Benzene, Propur, Cypermethrin, Chlorpyrifos, Malathion, DDT, and hundreds of other carcinogens produce adverse effects in the human body and lead to cancerous developments. Toxicologists nationwide have been screaming their concern for years over community exposures to airborne agricultural pesticides and other chemicals. Yet, most of them are still in use in various places across the country.
The chemical companies argue their chemicals do not cause Leukemia or any other illness; government studies disagree. However, the government often does not hold the answers regarding the chemicals due to laws and regulations that allow the chemicals to continue in use. Regulation and testing is sometimes left up to individual firms, which can leave many people feeling confused. In the end, there are more and more cancer pockets developing across the country, areas where there is a heavy concentration of cancer patients suffering from similar mysterious illnesses due to toxic exposure.
Chemical exposure and contamination is one of the single largest issues in relationship to conservation. There are many ways to get exposed to these chemicals, such as landfill leaks and contamination, insecticide spraying, food spraying, household cleaning and much, much more. If you do only one thing in relation to the Green and Simple Conservation Plan, please avoid using chemical solutions on your property as much as you can. Encourage your community to utilize safe practices with chemicals as well so your environment is as clean as it can be.
On June 22, 2002, Katherine, Queen of the Tot-Fairies, beautiful champion for young children every where, died a horrible, painful death. Jean-Marie suffered with her. She said Katherine's last few weeks were the worst, "Katherine would often wake and say, "Mommy, I survived the night!' after recording messages to loved ones when she thought she would not [survive another night]." Saddened, frightened, delirious, and tortured by her illness, an illness fostered by chemical exposure, she begged her mother to come with her and not let her be alone in death. Her last intelligible words were, "Everyone loses everyone."
Her parents and siblings are now singing Katherine's swan song: they have dedicated their lives to spreading the message of utilizing safe chemicals for the environment. Both Craig and Jean-Marie work diligently to encourage safe lawn and garden treatments. Katherine's dream was that all children would be safe. That means utilization of safe lawn chemicals, safe mosquito control choices, safe house-hold cleaning products and much more. Katherine's family feels that she should never have died, but now that she has, her short life and incredible inspiration should not be wasted. Her heartbreaking life, as tragic and painful as it was, has brought light onto a dark and difficult subject. Katherine believed she could make a difference, and even in death, she is still touching the world with her gentle hope.
Once upon a time there was an amazing little girl who imagined a world where
there were no harmful chemicals to hurt children. She dreamed of a natural and
safe world where food, air, and land have not been poisoned. Her name was
Katherine. Her legacy, the brilliant white-hot result of her short life, is to
inspire the world to practice better conservation so that all children can live
in safety and health.