Mold May Be Factor in 5-Month-Old’s Death, Parents Discover

Moldy Rental Related Mortality

The parents of a 5-month-old boy who died in August believe that mold growth in an apartment they rented may have played a role in his passing.

Parents Tyler Trombetta and Maci Smith, and their young son Luca, moved into an Oklahoma City apartment in March 2022.

Upon arriving, they noticed a weird smell in the air and stains on the apartment’s walls.

Yellow and brown liquid lined the edges of air vents, and a weird goo appeared in places on the floor.

Then, their young son developed a cough and his eyes began to run constantly.

When Luca’s cough became severe, they took him to the hospital.

Doctors advised the parents to keep an eye on his cough over the next few days.

Back from the hospital that day, they put their son down for a nap in the same crib he had slept in for six months.

Luca never woke up.

“…So full of life, and the brightest smile you’ve ever seen in a baby. There really wasn’t a day of his life he wasn’t smiling.”

Joseph Smith, Grandfather of Luca, in a memorial fundraiser

Hazmat Team Guts Neighboring Unit for Mold Infestation

Doctors initially said the young child’s death may have been due to SIDS, RSV, or another virus.

But the parents say that right after their son’s passing, they saw something that “added to the list” of the possible causes.

A black van pulled up, and workers in white suites came out of it, mother Maci Smith told Oklahoma’s News 9.

That work crew in white began “gutting the neighboring unit for a mold infestation,” explained News 9 anchor Brittany Toolis.

“They told us that it was hazardous to stand on our porch while emptying that stuff out,” said mother Maci Smith.

“But we’re meant to live next to it. This is what we breathe every day, and you guys are going in there in suits.”

An image from a video from Oklahoma’s News 9 shows what appears to be mold growth in a neighboring apartment. (The mold is obvious, its location is unclear from the video.)

Mold Exposure Can Kill

“It’s rare, but exposure to mold spores can eventually cause organ damage, cognitive difficulties and even death.”

Cleveland Clinic, “Mold: What You Need to Know to Cut Your Risk,” Nov. 18, 2020

Prolonged exposure to mold can indeed lead to death; a fact that is often underplayed or disputed.

Elsewhere, in the UK, an inquest this month found what one news outlet described this way: “A two-year-old boy died due to black mould in his home that was ‘unfit for human habitation,’ an inquest has found.”

Online health publication HealthLine.com, appears to downplay, but does not outright exclude, the possibility that mold can kill.

(True, the statistical probability of dying by black mold is low, but given the right conditions—coupled with the lack of public awareness—that probability increases by orders of magnitude.)

In an article titled, Can Black Mold Kill You? Fortunately, Probably Not, “rare” is the word used:

“In reality, all mold—including black mold—can produce toxins, but exposure to mold is rarely deadly.”

Healthline also says some people are more sensitive to mold than others: The very young, the very old, and persons with compromised immune systems, lung diseases, or certain mold allergies.

The Cleveland Clinic also uses the word rare, but acknowledges that mold exposure can be fatal.

“It’s rare, but exposure to mold spores can eventually cause organ damage, cognitive difficulties and even death.”

A March 2016 study in Current Medical Mycology concludes by stating, in part, that exposure to certain species of Aspergillus molds that produce primary and secondary metabolites—such as microbial volatile organic compounds, or mVOCs, and mycotoxins, can cause fatal outcomes in predisposed individuals.

“Exposure to Aspergillus species that produce secondary or primary metabolites in the environment can promote health risks, and even small amounts of fungal contamination may lead to fatal outcomes in predisposed individuals.”

Mousavi, B., Hedayati, M. T., Hedayati, N., Ilkit, M., & Syedmousavi, S. (2016). Aspergillus species in indoor environments and their possible occupational and public health hazards. Current medical mycology, 2(1), 36–42. https://doi.org/10.18869/acadpub.cmm.2.1.36

For Luca, no official cause of death has been declared and an autopsy is expected complete by Feb. 2023.

A memorial and relocation fund, set up for the parents on GoFundMe, has attracted the love and support of so many.

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