Debra should have been safe in her house, but something sinister was lurking there with her...
Here, Debra Liddell, 50, tells the story in her own words.
S￼igning on the dotted line, I never thought I’d see the day.
For as long as I could remember, I’d dreamed of owning a home for my 11 year old daughter Lizzie and me. But being a single mum, it had seemed impossible. Now, I’d been lucky enough to buy a house.
‘It needs a bit of work,’ I told Lizzie. With freshly painted walls though, it was perfectly liveable. And it was ours!
But a few years later, in December 2016, I started to feel really ill. I’d always suffered with asthma but never like this, and I had terrible hayfever.
Then last January, I woke up gasping for air. ‘Your lung’s collapsed, but we don’t know why,’ the doctor told me. After that, I just got sicker.
My nose was permanently blocked and I had really bad headaches. ‘Something’s not right,’ I said, going backwards and forwards to hospital. ‘I’m struggling to breathe.’
A new asthma inhaler, nasal sprays and antibiotics to treat sinus infections didn’t work. I was devastated when I had to give up my job in a coffee shop, but I had no other choice.
Suffering dizzy spells, I couldn’t concentrate. Thinking some time off would help, I couldn’t understand when my symptoms got worse.
My hands shook constantly and books didn’t make sense. One day, I snapped back to reality to see Lizzie looking at me terrified.
‘Mum, are you okay?’ she said. ‘You’ve been staring at the curtains for five minutes.’ ‘I feel like I’m going mad,’ I told her, in a daze.
Feeling so lethargic, my poor girl, then 15, had to do the laundry and make dinner. I had seizures too, where my eyes rolled back into my head. Lizzie called an ambulance 11 times, but the doctors never knew what was wrong with me.
‘I’m too scared to go to sleep in case you’re not here in the morning,’ Lizzie said.‘I am not going to die,’ I promised her. Deep down though, I was fearful.
Sometimes I could hardly catch my breath. Then last July, I was diagnosed with the flu and kept in hospital for 10 days. When I was discharged, I felt so weak I needed a wheelchair and a carer to help me shower.
‘Deb, your bathroom smells really damp,’ she said. ‘I haven’t noticed,’ I replied. ‘My nose is too blocked.’
I called a plumber to investigate and he found a leak behind the toilet and under the shower tray.
Needing to know the extent of the water damage, I asked my friend to pull up the lino on the side of the bath.
As he did, Lizzie and I gasped in horror. It was covered in fluffy black mould and the floorboards were rotten.
‘We can’t stay here,’ Lizzie said. ‘It’s too dangerous.’ She explained there had been black mould in a classroom at school and the workmen weren’t even allowed in without masks because the lethal spores can kill.
I’d never heard of it, so I did some research on the laptop. Clicking on an article about black mould poisoning, Lizzie looked between me and the list of symptoms, her eyes wide.
‘Yes… yes… yes…’ she said, ticking off each one.‘So I’m not going crazy,’ I said, feeling numb. ‘I’m sick.’
After six weeks we returned home. My immune system was so weak, I got open sores on my lips and my hands cracked and bled.
They were so painful, I couldn’t wash my hair, so I shaved it off.
Abscesses meant my top teeth fell out too. Now I’m completely unrecognisable.
Our bathroom is being rebuilt, and I’m trying to do the same. My nose is starting to clear and I no longer rely on a walking stick.
Lizzie, now 16, is amazing and helps me so much. I don’t want anyone else to go through what we have. Black mould is dangerous.
It feels like a miracle that I’m alive after living with a killer for so long.