Mario Casella sleeps outside under the stars in Texas, getting through the night in a sleeping bag and doing what he can to survive. He had a "normal" life until 2008, he said, the year he began having a physical reaction to all kinds of chemicals and also feeling the effects of liver disease brought on by poor lifestyle choices made years earlier.
Back then he was a muscular sports bar bouncer in Southern California, a bulky 220 pounds. Today he's 120 pounds, and dying.
As for reactions to chemicals, he first was affected by bleach used in the bar's bathroom. In a telephone interview, 39-year-old Casella said: "When breathing even a little bit, I'd get the most horrible, aching, burning feeling in my liver. Then I began feeling physically ill being around chlorine, perfumes, cologne, car exhaust and cigarette smoke. Then it got worse."
He soon had to quit work, and became a stay-at-home dad for his son, Anthony. His symptoms worsened more. He became bedridden in 2012, and Casella and his then-wife divorced. Eventually physicians diagnosed Casella with liver disease and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). It reached the point where Casella couldn't live indoors at his father's house because of an acute sensitivity to chemicals of any strength, and couldn't live outdoors because of neighbors venting air laced with dryer sheet fragrances.
Then Casella discovered planetthrive.com, a website for MCS-affected people. "Through it, I reached out to people all over the world," he said. "I was going to kill myself. Then a woman (in Arizona) heard my story and took me in."
When that woman became ill, Casella had to leave. A Missouri woman helped him find an environmentally safe community in Texas, where he now lives outdoors to avoid contact with chemicals of any strength. As for MCS, Casella was showing swift, dramatic improvement until November, when his liver disease unexpectedly worsened.
Worried he physically will react to medical-related chemicals if he sees a physician, he hasn't sought medical care. He barely can walk and drinks only distilled water. A woman in the community has become his girlfriend. She is blind and also has MCS.
About MCS, he said: "It's a very real illness. You can't really understand unless you have it. I miss my old life every day. But I'm a fighter and I'm not ready to give up."
For more stories of courage in disability, visit www.danieljvance.com or find them on Facebook at "Disabilities by Daniel J. Vance." Blue Valley Sod and Palmer Bus Service made this column possible.