Ashley and Mike Rutkowski are in the fight of their life, literally.
Their dream home became infested with black mold and in the process destroyed their health and finances and damaged their spirit.
I recently visited the Rutkowski’s where their house once stood in Franksville.
“It’s an overwhelming amount of stuff to deal with,” Ashley told me. “The medical stuff has me up until one in the morning. I’m trying to figure out contractors, permitting and materials for our house. We have a son with special needs, and everything is piling up. It’s just a lot.”
Ashley is struggling. She and her husband bought an old home in rural Racine county in 2014. They fixed it up, had two young children, and life was good.
Everything changed when the entire family got sick. They discovered the house was infested with mold and had to be torn down.
“It’s tough. We can’t wait to get back into our house and resume a normal life,” Ashley told me as we stood outside the camper they now live in which looks out on the site of their old home. “We have been in here almost a year. We can cook and sleep but the kids don’t have their own space anymore. When you have your home taken away, there is a little piece of you that is missing.”
Mike struggled to describe the scenario.
“It is tough,” he said as he labored to come up with the words to describe their situation. “I’m sorry that I can’t put this into words.”
I felt bad putting Mike on the spot and watching him struggle until he explained to me that one of the side effects of the mold poisoning is that during times of stress or anxiety, he gets brain fog. It’s tough to even complete thoughts.
I asked Ashley how stressful the ordeal is on their marriage.
“I can’t remember the last time we went on a date and were able to relax,” she told me emotionally. “Usually we end up talking about how we’re hurting, how we’re tired, and how we want to go to bed just to get the day over with. It’s hard not having a feeling of being free or having space. We are always in the camper. We’re always together.”
Thankfully, their daughter Brooklyn and son Nolan seem to be doing better. I was fun to watch them jump on the family trampoline and run around the yard. I was struck by how quickly both Mike and Ashley got winded. Kids being kids, they wanted to continue to play. For their mom and dad that just wasn’t an option.
“I look back at before we got sick and we did so much. We used to go hiking, always exploring new places,” Ashley told me as she tried to catch her breath. “Now it is a struggle on a day-to-day basis just to do chores, play with the kids, and take care of them. We are just surviving. I want to get back to the point again where we can enjoy our time together and not just be in survival mode.”
And the debt is devastatingly real. The Rutkowski’s owe $217,000 on a mortgage on house that no longer exists. And uncovered medical bills exceed $30,000 and are climbing.
“It’s been a constant battle back and forth. It’s really tough,” Mike told me.