In November of 2020, Aaron tried DNRS, or Dynamic Neural Retraining System, which according to their website, “resets limbic system function and reduces (or eliminates completely) mold hypersensitivity."

A New Lease on Life

By Ilenia Pezzaniti for The Devil Strip

Photos by Ilenia Pezzaniti

“I literally felt like I was dying, and nobody could understand it,” says Aaron Novak, co-founder of Whiskertin Lighting and now founder of Novak Heating and Cooling

At the beginning of the pandemic, Aaron took a voluntary layoff from the K Company Inc., an HVAC company where he had worked for the last 20 years. Aaron planned on going back to his full-time job but after spending time away, realized that wasn’t what he wanted.

Instead, Aaron started his own HVAC company, in hopes he might help other people avoid health problems he experienced.  

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In the early 2000s, Aaron bought a house in North Hill. After a year of living there, he had an outbreak of psoriasis, a chronic autoimmune skin disease that hurries the growth cycle of skin cells and causes patches of thick red skin and silvery scales.

 “The first time I got it it kind of just exploded all over my body. It was on my face, it was under my arm, it was on my legs,” he says.

Aaron says he had never had rashes or skin conditions before, and the outbreak was so severe that he went to the emergency room, where doctors suggested he see a dermatologist, who told him he would likely have psoriasis for the rest of his life. 

He was also a regular drinker and smoker, which exacerbates psoriasis symptoms, though he wasn’t ready to give up his habits just yet. 

“Going through this process, I learned that, when you have a skin issue, your body is trying to tell you something… and I wasn’t listening,” he says.

The symptoms progress

About five years ago, Aaron began experiencing an unusual amount of fatigue. 

“I’m always a high energy person, I’m always trying to do things, and I don’t like sitting still very much. I just noticed myself having a really hard time and it just escalated from that,” he says.

When he ate certain foods, especially foods with a lot of sugar, his symptoms worsened.

Desperate for help, Aaron went to every doctor he could find. He had multiple tests, including blood work and CT scans, but no one could pinpoint what was actually happening to him. Aaron grew anxious.

“I’m still managing my life, but I’m deteriorating, and falling apart, and getting sicker and sicker by the day.” 

In May 2019, Aaron’s fiancé, Kat Sim, called to tell him they were the new owners of the Orchard House on Maple Street. Two months later, the family moved in, but Aaron’s health continued to decline.

Getting a diagnosis

Aaron found a functional medicine doctor who told him he had SIBO, or small intestine bacterial overgrowth. According to the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, practitioners employ “a holistic approach to treat chronic disease, with a focus on nutrition.”

That doctor sent Aaron to a nutritionist, who put him on an elimination diet and banned his trigger foods such as sugars. On the elimination diet, Aaron began to gain energy little by little. But it wasn’t enough, so he returned to the doctor, who ran more tests.

Finally, Aaron had a diagnosis: mold toxicity.

But his initial relief was quickly dampened by his doctor, who told him healing this kind of damage would be extremely difficult long term. She suggested he test for mold toxicity in the home where he and his family had already been living for eight months. 

“There are molds that produce toxins, but these need to be remediated from houses. Most other molds are important parts of our ecosystem, and should neither be feared or demonized,” says Hazel Barton, professor and director of integrated bioscience at the University of Akron.

Aaron says he and Whiskertin co-founder Glenn Miller spent two years building light fixtures, working above a drain in Aaron’s North Hill basement where he noticed mold had been growing. At the time, Aaron says he wasn’t concerned because he assumed it didn’t affect the rest of the space, so he didn’t consider it a serious health or safety issue. 

But mold spores can be released into the air, then inhaled, which can lead to serious health issues for people with compromised immune systems, like Aaron, who has celiac disease.

“Generally, if people who become very sensitive to a mold growing in a place they live, they will have to move,” Dr. Barton says.

However, according to the CDC, mold can also attach itself to objects, so a person’s possessions may trigger the illness further. 

“When we left the house in North Hill, we brought everything from that house and filled this entire house with it…” Novak says. “Once you’re unmasked from the sickness, and you walk back in, it’s like walking into a brick wall.”

Searching for solutions

In a Facebook group about toxic mold sickness, Aaron found tips on how to recover. He set up a tent in his backyard and lived there all summer, while his two daughters and his fiancé slept in the house. 

He showered with the ice-cold water using a hose. “I couldn’t come in to even change my clothes or take a shower, it was that bad,” he says.

Among the challenges of this temporary fix, cross-contamination became an issue. Aaron couldn’t even get into the car with anyone who was staying in the house without rolling down the windows. 

When it got colder, Aaron slept in a camping trailer. Meanwhile, his family tried to rid household objects of residual mold, and eventually put everything into storage before giving up on the Orchard House and staying with Aaron’s parents. 

Still struggling, Aaron tries something different

Aaron took to cycling to cope with his illness, which became a way for him to detox, along with taking supplements like binders and clay and using a home sauna. But he still struggled.

That’s because the brain’s limbic system can get caught in a loop when people experience significant trauma. Dr. Ashley Kline, Director of Clinical Services at Hope and Healing Survivor Resource Center of Summit and Medina explains even after the threat has dissipated, the brain doesn’t recognize that until it’s specifically addressed. 

“To effectively remedy those symptoms for the treatment it would be necessary to address that trauma and get it to a place where you can pass it along in the brain where it becomes more neutral and does not hold so much emotional charge anymore,” Kline says.

That’s why Aaron turned to DNRS, or Dynamic Neural Retraining System, an intensive neuroplasticity therapy, which rewires the limbic system to build new neural pathways.

In order to complete the program successfully, Aaron needed to dedicate four uninterrupted days to rewiring his brain, so he went to his fiancé’s parents’ cottage in Sandusky. The first night, Aaron says, he was instructed to repeat the practice 100 times.

After he finished, Aaron says he felt different, which surprised him. In the shower that night he found a shampoo bottle that wasn’t his. Curious, he opened it and took “a big whiff” to give himself a reaction. But nothing happened, not even when he lathered his hair with it.

Now, months later, Aaron is again living and working in the Orchard House, though he keeps his clothes, which are all new, in air-tight containers, and uses unscented detergents. He’s also hired a coach to help him through the rest of his healing. 

“Air quality is one of the biggest things for me now because of going through this,” he says, so he wants to help others.

He says Novak Heating and Cooling can remedy the conditions that allow mold to grow inside and spread through HVAC systems. Utilizing West Hill’s live-work zoning, which allows residents to run commercial businesses inside residences, his new company is based out of the Orchard House.

“I’m hoping that everything that has happened over the course of all of this is going to turn over onto itself into a positive spin,” he says. “I don’t really want to get back to my old life. I did it. I was on that side of the fence for so long, and I lived unhealthy, and I didn’t listen to my body.”

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