Nothing is more heartbreaking than hearing someone’s story end in pain and suffering, especially when someone else had the means to change the outcome. All too often we hear stories of cover-ups, times when those in power stand back and do nothing while others pay a high price.
Such is the story of Erica and Josh Bells, and their now 11-year-old son, Jackson. Diagnosed with Eosinophilic Esophagitis at only fifteen months, Jackson has trouble simply swallowing.
“He was steps away from being dead,” Erica explained, recalling the terrifying night when Jackson was, once again, foaming at the mouth and vomiting. But let’s rewind to September 2006.
The Bells had been living on the east coast during Erica’s pregnancy, in an Atlantic Marine Corps Community located in Beaufort, South Carolina. Everything seemed just as it should, with Erica studying criminal justice and Josh working as a lance corporal at the Marine Corps Air Station.
Excited to start this new chapter of their lives, the Bells did what any new parents would do. They purchased all the necessary baby items and anxiously awaited the day they would welcome their new son into this world.
But then things started to go horribly wrong. One problem after another caused Erica to fear for her unborn child’s life.
After approaching maintenance about some issues in their home, Erica was simply told to clean “with an industrial spray.” From a smoking Xbox to a burned thermostat, Erica’s gut told her this was more than just a case of a house in need of deep cleaning.
“I kept a very clean house… It’s very, very, very clean,” she told The Beaufort Gazette. Still, she and her husband, along with her mother, scrubbed their Marine Corps property home from top to bottom.
But the problems only seemed to worsen. Symptoms such as intense headaches and extreme fatigue led Erica to call maintenance again.
When the fire department tested their home for mold and the results came back positive for penicillium-aspergillus and chaetomium, the Bells were finally moved to another residence. But this, unfortunately, didn’t solve their problem.
The Bells worried when they saw another family being moved into their old home only weeks after they had moved out. They’d gotten rid of all their furniture, which smelled awful from the mold, and had to start from scratch.
With only a $250 relocation stipend, they had to sleep on the floor, Erica still pregnant at the time. But perhaps the worst part was the reaction the property management administrator had when the Bells attempted to warn the new family about the mold issues.
“She told my husband not to spread rumors. And I told her that people had the right to know what was going on in my home,” Erica recounted.
What became of that family, whether they moved or stayed, has not been reported. However the Bells still suffer to this day due to their experiences, as their oldest son Jackson has had to endure multiple ER visits and feeding issues thanks to the AMCC’s carelessness.
One day of defeat in particular stands out for Erica. She recalled when Jackson said, “I just want to go to heaven. I know that in heaven… I won’t be sick.”
But the Bells haven’t lost hope. Despite the struggles and oppression they’ve faced, they continue to fight and make others aware of Jackson’s disease.
“It’s the things people take for grant[ed] like simply eating. Never take it for granted!!!” Erica shared in a Facebook post on their page “Jackson’s struggle with Eosinophilic Esophagitis.”
Recently, Jackson even had his very own Make-A-Wish come true when Olympic swimmer, Michael Phelps, took the young boy swimming and golfing. “He said… never to give up and keep on trying,” Jackson relayed.
Though it’s sad to know Jackson’s illness might have been prevented, it is truly heartwarming to see him and his family use their own experiences to help and inspire others. Our prayers go out to the Bells and anyone else suffering from this disease.
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