The Plague

Bizarre fibers. Black sweat. Bugs under the skin. Welcome to the controversial world of Morgellons disease.

Beginning in early 2006, 14 Morgellons patients come to Wymore's lab on two separate occasions. Six are children and eight are adults. All have fibers that appear to be growing from their skin. To prove that the fibers are not environmental contaminants, Wymore and his staff, which includes a doctor and a pediatrician, cut into the skin and remove colored fibers. "To find fibers underneath unbroken skin where there's no lesion, no scarring, no sign of scratching whatsoever, would preclude any possibility of this being contaminants from the environment," Wymore says.

He sends the fibers to an independent pathology lab in Tulsa. During the testing process the fibers are accidentally drained down a sink. He sent another batch in June and eagerly awaits the results.

Word of Wymore's research spreads. Dermatologists contact him, angry that he is giving this psychiatric disorder credibility. This is nonsense, they tell him.

This Arlington couple, who asked not to be identified, believe they contracted Morgellons at a Mansfield farmers market in 2005.
Mark Graham
This Arlington couple, who asked not to be identified, believe they contracted Morgellons at a Mansfield farmers market in 2005.
Open sores and lesions are the most common symptom of Morgellons.
Mark Graham
Open sores and lesions are the most common symptom of Morgellons.

"I know there are some physicians who consider me part of the lunatic fringe," he says. "But I'm convinced that if they came into my lab and spent a day with me and these patients and saw what I'm seeing, they would believe this is real. I stopped doubting a long time ago."

In the last few months, Wymore has been bombarded by phone calls and e-mails from Morgellons sufferers, family members and co-workers, even school principals who wonder if the disease is contagious. Doctors from all over the country have called, asking him how they should treat the disease. Since May, he has received 486 e-mails asking for some help or information. He wonders why the CDC isn't doing more.

"Why am I the one dealing with these people?" he asks. "I have no problem dealing with people in Oklahoma as a sort of public service aspect of my job, but when it starts coming from New York and California and Washington and Minnesota, I mean, we've crossed state lines--it seems to me this should become a federal issue."

Leitao is also frustrated that the CDC hasn't done more. Besides her youngest son, now 7, Leitao's two teenagers have also contracted Morgellons. All three experience joint pain, lesions, fibers and a loss of energy, and all miss school regularly. "We don't have time to wait for the CDC. We're going to absolutely move forward on our own. We have to," she says. "I have sick kids, and we don't have time to wait. None of us do."


Back in Leander, Travis Wilson is getting worse. Fibers are coming out of his fingers, his neck, even his mouth. He wants to transfer to the University of Texas and major in psychology. Basically, he just wants to help people, he writes in his online journal. "All of my life I've taken and never given back," he writes. "I need to balance my karma." But he is wasting away. He can't eat because the fibers get in his food. When he bathes, black fibers seep out of his skin and ring the tub. He goes to doctors and tells them of the fibers, but they don't see anything. Maybe that's because they talk to him from across the room. Maybe that's because they're convinced he's delusional, without even really looking at him.

"If you want to know about the sci-fi nightmare that is Morgellons disease, then feel free to go to the main site at www.morgellons.com," he writes in his online journal. "Check out the forums to read all the cool things like morphing hairs, cotton white and black pustules popping out of people's skin, and all sorts of neat physical and mental trauma that I've endured over the past eight months."

He finds Ginger Savely, a nurse practitioner on the MRF medical advisory board who has a practice in Austin. Savely sees white fibers growing out of his hand and black specks that look like pepper that come out of his palm. If he brushes them off, they come right back.

But even Savely doubts some of the things he says he's seeing. He points at the air and says, "See--there they are, there they are." Savely doesn't see anything.

His mom is also worried. She assures Travis that no one has hacked into his computer, that bugs are not coming out of the screen. Privately, she worries that he is losing his mind. He sometimes sees black vans parked out in front of their house. Maybe he is the subject of a U.S. government experiment, he thinks.

"Hey kids! From the same people who brought you the Gulf War Syndrome, now present to you Morgellons, a new biological warfare study that our government has launched on our own people!" he writes. "Have fun with it! Just don't go and commit suicide, junior, that'll screw up their neat and tidy data."

He isolates himself, even from his mother, afraid the disease is contagious. They stop eating together, they separate their laundry, they avoid sitting on the same couch. His worst fear is that he will contaminate her. She goes out of town and he tears up the carpet and burns it, along with his clothes and their couch, trying to stop the spread of the disease.

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