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A sprite who was sapped of spirit

Title: A sprite who was sapped of spirit
Date: Friday, 5 October 2007
Publisher: Philadelphia Inquirer
Author: Art Carey
Main source: philly.com

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Because she lived only a block from Ground Zero, Jodi Bettis wasn't allowed to return to her apartment until the end of October, about six weeks after 9/11.

On her window ledge, she found six inches of dust and soot, embedded with grim souvenirs of people who had worked in the Twin Towers - an earring, the scrap of a photograph, popcorn.

Her apartment assaulted her with a variety of smells - all of them repellent. "It smelled like heavy dust," Bettis recalls. "It smelled like smoke, like a fire had just been put out. It smelled like death, like decomposing bodies."

At night, it was difficult to sleep because of the bright lights and noise at Ground Zero, where work continued around the clock. She couldn't abandon her apartment because she couldn't break the lease without paying a stiff penalty. Besides, Bettis, a merchandising development manager for Philip Morris, had lived there for two years and felt attached to the neighborhood, now more than ever. Her health problems began almost immediately after she returned to her apartment. She went to a dermatologist because her eyes were irritated and she was developing a rash. The rash began to spread. Sores and lesions appeared on her face, back, chest, arms, legs, all over her body.

Before 9/11, she had been active and athletic. A member of the New York Road Runners Club, she had run 10Ks and half-marathons. She played soccer and surfed. Now she was having trouble breathing. Her lungs felt tight, puny. She felt lethargic, listless. "Not only didn't I feel good, but I didn't have the will."

The sores worsened. They would rupture and bleed, especially on her face. It was painful to take a shower, impossible to sleep. When she rose from her bed in the morning, her oozing body stuck to the sheets.

Bettis continued to seek help from medical specialists. She visited several dermatologists and allergists. They prescribed powerful medications - the steroid Prednisone, the immuno-suppressant cyclosporin. Before 9/11, Bettis was a 95-pound sprite. The combination of the steroidal medication and her inability to exercise caused her to gain 40 pounds.

In 2003, she decided to move to Brooklyn. One evening, after a long day of apartment hunting, she stopped at a pub for some refreshment. A lawyer at the bar heard her voice. It enchanted him. He said to himself, "I'm going to marry her."

Lee Bettis kept that vow. He married Jodi a year later, and in the spring 2004 they moved to New Bern, N.C, a town that had everything they were looking for. Philip Morris consented to a transfer; he got a job with a local law firm.

It was not happily ever after, though. Their efforts to create a family ended in two miscarriages. And Jodi's health woes - particularly the sores and lesions - persisted. "My husband has never known me to be well," Bettis says.

By early this year, her situation had become intolerable. Her joints hurt. She couldn't breathe. Her rashes were excruciating. She could actually watch the lesions on her face open up and bleed. She visited medical experts at Duke University. They were baffled; no one could offer a remedy.

Bettis was so rundown that she couldn't get out of bed. In agony, she kept yelling for her husband, pleading for help. Frightened, Lee Bettis called his mother, who promptly came up from South Carolina. Says Bettis: "She was ready to move in to take care of me till I died."

Lee sent out an e-mail to all their friends, notifying them of Jodi's plight. A friend in New York responded. He'd read about a fund-raiser held by Tom Cruise for a detox clinic that was helping 9/11 rescue workers.

Jodi's reaction: "It's worth a shot. At that point, I would have taken magic snakes and leeches."

Summoning all her strength, Bettis drove to New York herself. She was greeted by Jim Woodworth. "Before I opened my mouth, he named all my symptoms. Then he said, 'We can help you.' It was the first time in years I had hope."

Bettis began the program two days later. She looked awful. So ashamed was she of her appearance that she skulked around in baggy clothes, her face hidden behind stringy hair and the hood of a sweatshirt. To Mike Wire, she looked like a leper. One clinic patient told Bettis later that when he first saw her he was sure she was a heroin addict.

Her skin was so ravaged she couldn't take a shower. The clinic doctor who examined Bettis opposed treating her. Woodworth intervened. Because of her fragile condition, Bettis began the program by taking only 50 milligrams of niacin, half the normal starting dose.

For the first three days, her sweat was dark blue. By the second week, it was yellow, black and gray, she says. Her body was also excreting "a lot of glass and fiberglass."

"You can see the blood coming out of your pores," Bettis says. "It feels like little razors going through your skin. A couple of times, the pieces were big enough to see."

Within two weeks, Bettis was able to run on the treadmill, and her rash was beginning to vanish. "I was in shock," she says.

Five weeks into the program, Bettis was able to run for 30 minutes without stopping. She stepped off the treadmill, weeping with joy, and gave Woodworth a hug. "I can't believe it," she exclaimed. "I just ran three miles. It's like I got my lungs back!"

Near the end of June, Bettis returned home, thinking she was done. But as she perspired in the North Carolina heat, tiny strings of white fiberglass emerged from her wrists, she says. Her pores bled and stung. Worried that she might have halted treatment prematurely, she called the clinic and asked to return.

In July, Bettis went through an additional 20 days. When it was over, "I felt really great," she says.

Today, her rash has largely disappeared, though her arms show scars from the lesions. Some residual redness fades by the day. Her breathing is unfettered, and her energy and stamina have rebounded. She works out at the gym and takes her black Lab, Gracie, for two-mile runs. Other than vitamins and minerals, she is taking no medication, "not even Advil." She went off Prednizone in March.