Contaminated well results in illness for Bradley family
by LINDA STARCHER, Banner Staff Writer
Jun 01, 2010 | 4167 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BACK TO WORK — After a very extended illness due to contaminated well water, Rhonda Gentry is back working at the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office. Banner photo, LINDA STARCHER
BACK TO WORK — After a very extended illness due to contaminated well water, Rhonda Gentry is back working at the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office. Banner photo, LINDA STARCHER
Although she is on her way to a healthy recovery, Rhonda Gentry is just getting over a nearly 3-month-long illness. She thought she was knocking on death’s door.

“There was a bacteria in my well water and I didn’t even know it,” said Gentry.

The bacteria coliform had heavily tainted Gentry’s well. The bacteria is found in the intestinal tract of humans and animals. Its presence in water can cause severe diarrhea and stomach-related illnesses.

In February, Gentry, who lives in Ocoee, began having bouts of nausea and began losing weight.

“I thought it was a stomach virus at first. I was nauseous but couldn’t throw up,” she said.

Within a few short weeks her symptoms escalated with the inability to eat and the “shakes.”

“Almost every time I tried to eat, I would gag. I couldn’t hardly get anything down and I would get to where I would just shake,” she said.

At the beginning of her sickness, Gentry said she also considered the illness could have been brought on by coming off a prescription medicine she had previously taken to aid with heartburn and acid reflux.

“I had what they call a slow-emptying stomach,” she said.

According to Gentry, she visited her gastrointestinal doctor who couldn’t diagnose her illness. She was given a prescription medicine for heartburn and sent home.

As her symptoms worsened, Gentry was hospitalized, twice.

“I lost 15 pounds in two weeks. The first time I was hospitalized, I was there for four days, then the second time, about a week later, I was hospitalized again. I couldn’t work, I’d come in and be so weak, they’d have to send me home,” she said.

Gentry said during her hospitalization the doctors conducted several blood tests, a stomach-emptying test, ran dye through her arteries and veins to check for blockages and conducted a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test to see if she had a tumor on her brain.

“It all came back clear. As if nothing was wrong with me,” she said.

Gentry said each time she was hospitalized she would receive fluids intravenously and, after a few days, begin to feel better.

“I wasn’t 100 percent but I could at least start eating, but after I was released, I’d go home, start drinking the water again and I was back in the hospital,” she said.

Gentry said doctors prescribed her medication for nausea and anxiety.

“After the second visit, I was told if I came back I would have to see a psychiatrist,” she said.

Gentry said doctors had even labeled her chart as possibly anorexia nervosa because of her rapid weight loss.

“I told the doctors I would see a psychiatrist if I thought it would help, but I knew I was sick. Yes, my nerves were up. I was anxious. I mean, I was sick as a dog and they couldn’t find out what was wrong with me. I couldn’t work and I needed to work. I had all this stuff going on, I was anxious, but it wasn’t the cause of my sickness. I just felt like I couldn’t get anywhere. It was just so frustrating,” she said.

After her second hospitalization in April, Gentry said she became very nervous when she began passing blood from a severe urinary tract infection. It was when she developed the UTI, that her husband, Tyler, began coming down with symptoms of nausea.

Gentry said before coming down with the symptoms, her husband had been helping his family and was rarely home save early in the morning and late in the evening.

“He’d also just been to the doctor and the doctor told him he’d needed to lose a little weight, so he quit drinking cokes and started drinking water,” she said.

Once Tyler began developing the same symptoms as his wife, the couple focused in on the possibility of contaminated well water and took a water sample to the Analytical Industrial Research Laboratories for testing.

The Analytical Industrial Research Laboratories is located at 1550 37th St. N.E.

“The lab tech told us you can have one to two colonies of this bacteria in your water (safely) per so much milliliters, we had 63 colonies,” she said.

“Wells can stay clean for a good period of time, but it’s important for wells to be tested and treated often,” said Sean Glaser, supervisor lab technician at Analytical Industrial Research Laboratories.

The Gentrys have lived at their residence for 11 years and have never treated their well.

“We just didn’t know. After this whole deal, we talked to a lot of our neighbors and other people and they didn’t know either,” said Gentry.

According to Glaser, the two main causes of bacteria contaminating wells are heavy rains and drought.

“Heavy rains, just like the ones in Nashville, saturate the ground and things like waste and feces soak into the ground,” he said.

When a drought occurs, it lowers the amount of water in a well which allows bacteria to become more concentrated.

“It’s not a question whether bacteria is in your well water, but rather how concentrated is it,” he said.

Glacer recommended treating wells after a heavy rain.

The University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service recommends residents who use well water have water tested for bacteria contamination yearly.

“Some people have higher levels of bacteria in their well and they’re walking around only functioning about 60 or 70 percent. They don’t always feel well, but not bad enough to go to the doctor. People are surprised after they treat their wells at how much better they feel,” he said.

Treating wells is simple, according to Glacer. An ordinary chlorine bleach is typically used.

Analytical Industrial Research Laboratories provides information on how to treat well water systems at no cost. Information can also be found online by entering keywords “treating wells” into any search engine.

“Now that we know, we will be testing and treating our well often. I don’t ever want to be that sick. I mean, we thought I was going to die.

“I was on so many prayer chains, I think I was on chains I didn’t even know I was on. I’m so thankful for all the prayers. I know that was a factor in this,” she said.

For more information about treating wells or water testing, call the Analytical Industrial Research Lab at 476-7766.