BRADENTON — First, it was the microwave oven.
It stopped working three days after Andres and Sofia Macchiavello and their three daughters moved into their new house in Palma Sola Trace in April 2007.
The air-conditioning system faltered next. Black spots began appearing on mirrors and metal jewelry. The family’s high-definition television set, which was brand new, began showing snowy reception.
Then came the health problems — headaches, watery eyes, skin rashes, sore throats and nosebleeds — that led to a cancer scare, hearing loss and a nearly two-year cycle of doctor visits and medical tests that yielded few clues as to the cause.
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“I thought, ‘What is going on? Why am I sick and tired all the time? Why are my daughters sick all the time?’” Sofia Macchiavello recalled.
It wasn’t until she received a letter from the homebuilder, Taylor Morrison, this past March that she got a possible answer: The house could have Chinese drywall.
Subsequent testing confirmed it, prompting the family to move out and placing Palma Sola Trace on a growing list of Manatee County subdivisions with the problem product.
It also has been found in the Carpentras in the Villages of Avignon, Crystal Lakes, Fairways at Imperial Lakewoods, Greenfield Plantation, Greyhawk Landing, Heritage Harbour, Lakewood Ranch’s Greenbrook Village and Waterlefe Golf & River Club.
And there could be others, as state health officials also have received drywall complaints from homeowners in Parrish and Myakka City. The exact locations are not available because the state no longer releases complainants’ addresses, citing confidentiality.
In the Macchiavello family’s case, it was a four-bedroom house on Summerwind Circle with granite counter tops, crystal chandeliers and other upgrades. The family, originally from Peru, moved from California to Bradenton to further the daughters’ athletic interests.
“It was my dream home,” Sofia Macchiavello said. “I waited so long for this kind of house. I was going to live in it forever.”
The dream quickly soured as the health problems mounted, she said.
Andrea, the youngest daughter, developed skin rashes and nose bleeds that ultimately required surgery. Manangela, the middle daughter, suffered from frequent headaches and watery eyes. Estefina, the oldest and a college student, became sick after every visit home.
“I was the worst,” Sofia Macchiavello said.
She had headaches, persistent fatigue and a terrifying early-morning episode in which she coughed up blood. Her right ear felt as if “it had a bubble in it,” slowly reducing her hearing.
Doctors were unable to determine the cause, and one suggested she undergo an MRI to determine whether she had a brain tumor. It was negative.
Later, an ear specialist found and removed an unknown powdery substance from Sofia Macchiavello’s ear. She said her hearing has improved, but that she’s been told she likely will suffer some permanent hearing loss.
Sofia Macchiavello is certain the Chinese drywall caused her and her daughters’ medical issues, although health officials have not yet conclusively linked the product to health problems.
Then came the letter from Taylor Morrison, which she showed to her primary doctor.
His reaction: “You have to be away from that house,” Sofia Macchiavello said.
She did so after her two youngest daughters returned home, symptom-free, from different week-long athletic tournaments.
“The same day they came back to the house and I see my daughters well and really happy, I knew that we had to get out of the house,” Sofia Macchiavello said.
Since then, the family has lived in a rental house in Bradenton. Taylor Morrison has paid the family’s moving and storage costs, and is reimbursing the family $130 a day, under a repair and relocation agreement.
The company also has begun replacing the drywall, at its own cost.
“At this time, we at Taylor Morrison believe replacement of Chinese drywall is the best permanent solution,” Steve Kempton, the company’s west Florida division president, said in a statement.
“The repairs for each home will involve demolition of the interior down to the studs. We will thoroughly clean the home interior, replace all drywall and damaged items, and essentially rebuild the inside of the home.”
Edwin Mulock, the Macchiavellos’ attorney, said Taylor Morrison officials “have done exactly what they said they would do.” Still, Sofia Macchiavello remains leery of returning after the repair work is done. She wants Taylor Morrison to refund the purchase price — which the builder has declined to do — but feels she has no other choice.
“It was my dream home, but I don’t want to go back. I’m a little afraid,” she said. “I don’t have any other options. I have to move back into the house. I have a mortgage.”