Visionary pioneer and clinician in environmental Illness, Dr. William J. Rea, dies in Dallas. World loses the man who created the most comprehensive and important environmental health clinic for the chemically sensitive, a model for clinics and clinicians everywhere.

1Thursday, August 16, the world of environmental Illness lost a brilliant, courageous and extraordinarily accomplished pioneer who was, for forty years, the most important clinician in the field of chemical sensitivity in the world: William J. Rea, M.D., the founder and director of the Environmental Health Center – Dallas. Since the 1970s, Dr. Rea’s work has helped those suffering at the extremes of such illness – from military veterans and police first responders to oil spill workers to farmers to people living everyday lives in cities, and, uniquely and devotedly, to children.

To say that Dr. Rae will be missed barely begins to express the gap that his passing has created, particularly for health providers and patients who want to see clinics like the EHC-D created in their jurisdictions. Having inspired similar clinical efforts in many countries, including in Japan, Dr. Rea was courageous and ambitious in the scope of his work. For this he earned the undying gratitude of tens of thousands of patients, many whose lives he saved; and – for many years – it also brought a vicious, protracted attempt by a cabal of interests (insurance, medical, chemical) that wanted to deny the reality of chemically-linked illness, to shut his clinic down and to have his license taken away. Luckily, these people did not win, and Dr. Rea was able to continue for another decade.

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I am one of the people whose life Dr. Rea and his clinic saved. I arrived in Dallas close to death in early 2008, knowing I was horrendously chemically sensitive, but not understanding the cause, nor the reasons that attempts I had made at home (in Canada, in Quebec and Ontario) had not helped me. And here’s the thing: Over the four months I spent at EHC-D, I crossed back from the land of the nearly-dead and wish-I-were-dead into the land of the living and glad-to-be-alive.

It was at the clinic that a pesticide panel Dr. Rea requisitioned showed that I was carrying stunningly high levels of DDT by products (from my farming childhood), and DDT’s cousin pesticide Chlordane – both banned long ago, but living on in me. It was there that another test revealed I carried outrageous levels of mercury, and very high levels of lead and arsenic. It was there that a genetic polymorphism test revealed that my body cannot produce its own glutathione, the basic peptide for detoxification, and needs to have this supplemented. It was there that a test revealed I had contracted Lyme disease (making sense, by the way, of a terrible insect bite and subsequent illness I had received in 2002, and which my then doctors dismissed as “no big deal.”) It was there that state-of-the-art testing showed chronic viral and bacterial infections; and standard blood tests showed several types of immune defects and many serious and longstanding nutritional deficits. It was at EHC-D that diagnostic tests revealed serious deficiencies and imbalances in my hormones and neurotransmitters. And last, but not least, it was there that advanced allergic/sensitivity testing helped me to identify the chemicals that were making me so sick.

And it was at EHC-D, after the diagnostics were done, that I underwent treatments for all these problems simultaneously – an absolutely key approach – and there, after years of living in hell, that I began to improve by leaps and bounds. By the end of my second month, which is also when I received my first injection of gamma globulin, I experienced what felt like a miraculous resurrection back into life and the ability to lead it – not cured, but able to be in the world, able to work and have a life worth living. Had I been able to afford to stay longer than four months, I would have made even greater progress than I did. And had I been able, in the subsequent years, to return for treatment when I had setbacks, it would have changed the course of my life completely.

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I enumerate these diagnostic methods and the treatments they pointed to, treatments that were available under one roof at EHC-D, not only to pay tribute to Dr. Rea and his staff, not only to share my personal story with you, but also to underline that, once experienced, these methods seemed to be an application of basic common-sense measures for the kinds of issues thousands of people like me arrived with at the center every year. And yet –  the tragedy, one that amounts, in my moral universe, to wilful and criminal refusal to fulfil a duty of care – these effective, critical diagnostic and treatment methods are the very ones that, so far, every Canadian health care system (these are based in the provinces and territories) has refused to to adopt – even investigate, to my knowledge – for those suffering from chemical intolerances and its many co-morbidities; the ones that every U.S. insurance company has refused to cover. What does this refusal look like in the lives of so many neglected people? Spend a little time exploring the remarkable offerings in experiential and analytic work available on and from The Chemical Sensitivity Foundation and by all means explore the offerings on this site too.

And so, it is with a very, very heavy heart that I bid Dr. Bill Rea adieu. I send his family and colleagues my deepest condolences and fervently wish that a way will be found to keep the EHC-D open for many years to come. And I hope, equally fervently, that the body of work and knowledge that he developed, applied and codified – do have a look at his remarkable bio in the side-bar – will grow to enlighten and inform thousands of new facilities to care for one of the greatest public health crises of this century: the profound chronic illnesses linked to toxic chemicals that are now everywhere in our environment, afflicting tens of millions of people.

I hope that the people who dominate our health care provision in North America will wake up and smell the chemicals, understand the polysystemic illnesses they have wrought, and begin to live up to – in practice, not just in rhetoric – their responsibilities to help, not harm, the people who come to them for enlightenment and solutions.

Thank you, Dr. Rae. I’m not a Catholic, but you are truly a saint in my books. May your legacy live on and on, and may many others build upon it.

Varda Burstyn

August 20, 2018

 

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