Woman fights to have ham radio operations banned after potential interference with insulin pump

MARION COUNTY, Fla. — A Marion County woman is taking on her neighborhood association, in a matter she said puts her health at risk.

Michelle Smith, a Type 1 Diabetic, and a consultant determined that her neighbor’s ham radio hobby might have interfered with the doses of insulin being pushed out from her pump.

The 55+ community where she lives hired that consultant and told the neighbor to shut down his amateur radio station.

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But a copy of the community’s rules shows a change was put in place that could pave the way for other similar antennas to be installed.

9 Investigates learned that Smith’s complaint went all the way to the state level.

She wants the Florida Commission on Human Relations to make a determination whether the community’s board and management is doing enough to protect her and others with medical devices.

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In the manicured subdivision of Indigo East near Ocala, managed by On Top Of The World, two neighbors say they’ve thought of moving away from the development’s amenities because of the ongoing dispute.

Smith has been in the back and forth with the community’s association for more than a year after noticing the insulin pump she uses to manage her Type 1 Diabetes was suddenly giving the wrong amount of the medicine that keeps her alive.

“So I switched pumps, bought another one, switched reservoirs, threw insulin away, did everything I knew of to troubleshoot,” she said.

After doing some research, she suspected the problem might be a few doors down in equipment that is now unplugged and collecting dust.

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David Birge was told to shut down his ham radio operation after On Top Of The World hired an independent consultant to investigate Smith’s complaints.

That engineer determined the “amateur radio operator could have produced” radio frequency levels that exceeded those Smith’s insulin pump is intended to operate in.

“I’ve lost a hobby I’ve enjoyed more than half of my lifetime, and the equipment sitting in my office is not plugged in,” Birge said.

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Though his operation was shut down for now, the community’s board of directors changed the wording in its rules and regulations to potentially allow more of these amateur radios in the future -- changing the definition of antenna allowed after approval from “a device used to receive” to one that could also “transmit” radio frequency signals.

Smith said she requested a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act to ensure no high frequency signals can be transmitted within 300 feet of her home.

Because of that pending litigation, Indigo East’s manager told 9 Investigates that they could not comment.

Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.