Pesticide victim, 36, dies

DEENA WINTER, Bismarck Tribune


A Bismarck native who was severely poisoned by pesticides in 1984 died Tuesday in her rural Epping home at age 36 -- two years after she was one of five people in the world selected to receive an award known as the alternative Nobel Prize.

Cindy Duehring was born in Bismarck, the daughter of Donald and Jan Froeschle. She was a standout student, athlete and musician who hoped to become a doctor, but her plans were forever altered when she became irreparably sick after being exposed to a heavy dose of pesticides. She was finishing her final year of pre-med studies when fleas invaded her Seattle apartment and an exterminator doused the apartment with pesticides.

From then on, Duehring struggled to regain her health, which deteriorated to the point where she became a virtual prisoner inside her own home, a sealed, purified house that her husband and father built for her near Epping, a small town northeast of Williston.

Over the years, Duehring's life became increasingly complicated as she insulated herself from the world and its potentially lethal elements. Because of her chemical poisoning, she became extremely sensitive to even low levels of chemicals. She eventually stopped using most modern conveniences, such as a telephone, radio, computer or fax machine. Even simple pleasures that most people take for granted -- such as a ray of sunlight, drinking water, outside air or noise -- made her sick.

Her husband had to move to a cabin about 500 feet away, because the perfumes that clung to him after a day at work made her sick. She virtually stopped talking a couple years ago, because audio-induced seizures could send her into convulsions.

Despite the many obstacles that littered her path, Duehring plunged forward. She was determined to learn all that she could about the sickness that was ravaging her body, and share that knowledge with others. In an effort to provide chemically injured people with information about multiple chemical sensitivies, she founded a group, the Environmental Access Research Network. At one point, she was answering 500 research requests per month, as well as writing articles and legal briefs.

Duehring's painstaking work went largely unnoticed for years, until she received international acclaim after being selected to receive the Right Livelihood Award, which was presented before the Swedish Parliament (her husband accepted the award on her behalf). Last year, Duehring was asked to be on a planning committee for a conference addressing chemical exposures and multiple chemical sensitivies in Gulf War veterans.

As her work became more publicized, she was the subject of numerous magazine articles, including one in People magazine.

Her husband, Jim Duehring, said she began cutting back on her work a few months ago, because she knew she was getting sicker.

"It was just getting physically impossible," Jim Duehring said.

Almost two weeks ago, he and her mother began a round-the-clock vigil at her bedside.

"It just got extremely bad," Jim Duehring said. "Her organ systems just broke down."

However, he said she kept her sense of humor and fighting spirit intact until the very end.

"She was a one-of-a-king person (with) an amazing mind and a beautiful soul," her husband said. "She had an amazing spirit. She was well worth knowing."

But, he added, "I can't wish her back to the suffering she was enduring."

After 14 years of fighting, Duehring succumbed to the sickness Tuesday morning, her husband said: "Her last words to me were this: 'Goodbye. I'm going now.' And she died."

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