Cuero parents, players affected by something in the air in Yorktown gym

Sonny Long

Sept. 20, 2010 at 4:20 a.m.

YORKTOWN - Troy Fuchs was scared to close his eyes Saturday night.

"I left my eyes open for fear of losing my eyesight," Fuchs said Monday. "If I did close them, when I opened them I could barely see and there was a haze around the lights."

Fuchs, 36, his wife, Christi Fuchs, 35, and daughter Chelsea Fuchs, 12, all suffered allergic reactions to something in the air, they believe, during a seventh-grade girls' volleyball tournament Saturday in Yorktown.

Chelsea plays for the Cuero squad that eventually won the tournament. She and other players reported a "salty/ pepper" smell in the gym and restrooms when they arrived Saturday morning, Fuchs said.

Fuchs said he first noticed what felt like "something cascading" over everyone when a large shop fan was turned on in front of an open door in the gym.

"My eyes burned, some of my exposed skin burned," he said. "The same for Christi and Chelsea."

It got worse after they left, Fuchs said.

"The pain and puffiness got worse than unbearable about 10 p.m.," said the human resources director for Sparkman Industries in Victoria

The pain and concern got so bad that Fuchs called his mother, Donna Fuchs, to drive them to the DeTar Hospital North emergency room. They each received a shot of Toradol, a short-term prescription anti-inflammatory drug used to treat patients experiencing moderate to severe pain.

Donna Fuchs was frightened by what she saw.

"I was scared for them," she said. "All my family was affected by it. They couldn't see."

"Their skin, in places that were exposed, looked like they had been sunburned," said Fuchs.

Randall Fuchs, Troy Fuchs' brother, also attended the match for about an hour and a half, and suffered the same symptoms. Troy Fuchs said he thought close to two dozen people may have been affected, but he heard no other reports of anyone seeking medical attention.

"Some of them, like my brother, just worked through it," he said.

One of the fans, who was seated in Yorktown play-a-torium, a second gymnasium on the junior high campus and reported reactions, was Cuero Intermediate school nurse Angie Cuellar. She noticed some eye irritation during the tournament but, like the Fuchs family, had it intensify later.

She woke up at 1 a.m. with severe discomfort.

"I couldn't open my eyes without them burning," she said. "I tried flushing them out with water, but that made them burn worse."

Cuellar said she eventually took an antihistamine and eventually the symptoms eased.

Nathan Garrett, whose granddaughter, Lauren Haun, also plays for the Cuero team, also suffered similar symptoms.

"I put Visine in my eyes and it felt like hot coals," he said. It lasted about two days."

Cuellar also thinks the fan and the open door may have contributed to the reactions.

"It seems to me, and this is just a personal opinion, that something might have blown in or been sucked in from an empty field behind where the fan was sitting in the gym door," Cuellar said. "Everyone that has reported being affected was all sitting in the same area."

Yorktown school district superintendent Deborah Kneese said the cause remains undetermined.

She consulted with the district's maintenance personnel, physical education teacher - who used the gym for classes on Monday - and the city of Yorktown.

"We have not used any chemicals or cleaning products other than those we normally use," Kneese said. "The city did not spray for mosquitoes in the area that morning. We've come up with nothing. It's obvious there was an allergic reaction to something."

Christi Fuchs, a fifth-grade science teacher in Cuero, was concerned the gym was being used Monday without knowing what caused the problem.

"That's unacceptable," she said. "I am very concerned for the safety of the Yorktown students and staff."

Her husband agreed.

"I need to know what it is," Troy Fuchs said. "I never want to spray anything like it near my house. Without knowing what it was, who knows what the side-effects might be."

Kneese and Yorktown Junior High School Principal Sylvia Hernandez said they haven't been contacted by any other groups about any problems.

Cuero Superintendent Henry Lind said apparently only fans and players who frequented the section directly in front of the fan were affected. And the majority of those happened to be from Cuero.

"It's an unusual situation, but nothing really points to any one reason," he said.



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