Heal Amelia


Story Details

Heal Amelia's Life

Trapped behind a glass wall, Amelia Hill can only sit and watch as the days, months and years pass her by.

In the last three years she's been isolated, unable to leave a tiny room and says the slightest breath of air from the outside world could cause her to collapse, even die.

Eight years ago Amelia was a vibrant, young fashion designer, writer and magazine stylist. She had big dreams of travelling to New York and writing for U.S. Vogue. We shot footage when she was working with body painter and good friend, Emma Hack.

"Things were just taking off and she was so full of life and you know so hopeful and suddenly this is what's happened to her and it's just all come crashing down", said Amelia's mother Danja.

She has watched helplessly as her daughter succumbed to the mysterious condition. "She's been to so many specialists who just don't know, they just haven't got an answer. They're baffled, so that's been very disheartening and very frightening", Danja said.

Many initially diagnosed her with chronic fatigue, some people even accused her of faking it but only in recent years has her condition become recognised in Australia.

Amelia suffers from an environmental illness called MCS or Multiple Chemical Sensitivity -- and she's not alone. It's believed up to 6% of Australians have an allergic response to chemicals that surround us in the modern world.

Some sufferers get headaches or nausea but for Amelia the slightest exposure brings on an extreme reaction -- her condition has led to reactive airway disease, intolerances to foods and anaphylactic seizures. "The average person your system will metabolise toxins that you breathe in or that are on your skin and you can excrete them. We've found that Amelia has a genetic marker which means her body does not metabolise toxins or excrete them", Danja said.

Researchers in Canada and the U.S. suggest MCS begins with a chemical injury and Danija believes Amelia's injury was triggered in the late 80s when their family home was sprayed for termites.

Amelia rarely sees her family or friends -- human contact is too risky.

In the last year Amelia's condition has deteriorated. A former high school teacher Danija is now her daughter's full time carer and on the day we visited her unit, it was only under strict conditions -- no deodorant or fragrance and to enter her space we had to change into clothing that had been washed in bi-carbonate of soda.

Because Amelia also reacts to electromagnetic fields the television is rarely on and she can only use her computer and phone for a few minutes a day. Most days she's left to occupy herself -- writing in notebooks that have been aired out and only in pencil.

What she misses most are the simple things we take for granted and even talking becomes exhausting. "She feels very down, very distressed", Danja said.

Amelia's family has turned to natural therapies for answers but the only way she'll really recover is by moving to a safer place -- a home away from chemicals and moulds.

Peter Evans also an MCS sufferer, reacted to my perfume. He heads the South Australian Taskforce on MCS and says finding suitable housing is the biggest challenge. "People on the severe end of the spectrum end up without accommodation, they're living in tents, in caravans, out in the middle of nowhere with no support with no electricity. Living in people's verandas, in the backs of cars, they don't' have access to health care because health care services have a lot of chemicals in there", Peter said.

And that's also why Amelia is telling her story -- to give others a voice. "It is possible to build these places and it's not too expensive -- mainly it's things that are un-reactive, so cement, glass, metal", Peter said.

Which is why Emma has started fundraising, to help her friend find a new place. "I know Amelia would do anything for me and anybody else so why wouldn't we do that for her", Emma said.

At just 36, Amelia's still got so much more to give. "My one greatest wish is that it's not too late for me, that it's possible to regain my health and to really to live, to live life and to live all those hopes and dreams that I have for myself", she said.