For a number of years Johanna Watkins suffered from migraines, irritable bowel syndrome and unusual rashes, what was most unusual was that she seemed to have allergic reactions to people. However, when she married her husband, Scott, her symptoms only seemed to worsen by the day. Speaking to BBC, Johanna explained, “We had noticed that when Scott would come in [to the room] I would start feeling worse and worse.
My normal daily symptoms would just be aggravated. And then at one point he went to get his haircut and came back in the room and within two minutes I had started my anaphylactic symptoms and he had to leave.” She further added, “Before this, I had reacted to my parents, to many, many other people,” she said. “But it was horrific when it became Scott.”
Johanna was diagnosed with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS), a rare immune system disorder, rendering her allergic to almost everything, including her husband! Sadly, the 29 year old’s case of MCAS is severe in that cells that are intended to protect the body from outside threats mutate and attack her instead.
As a result of her health condition, Johanna has to live alone, in an attic with sealed windows and an air filter. Obviously, this presents unique challenges to a marriage. Her husband, Scott, said, “There’s not an easy way around this problem. I want to keep Johanna safe and me going to see her compromises her safety. One of the ways I can take care of her now is by not going to see her. I’m not going to endanger her life.”
So Scott prepares meals for his wife (using the only 15 foods she can eat) and the two communicate through text messages. Date night for them consists of watching the same movie on different floors of their house and discussing it over text messages.
All the treatments and medications typically used to treat MCAS patients have been unsuccessful in her case. Already she has had to endure 4 rounds of chemotherapy with no success.
Johanna explained, “It’s common for us to just think, ‘Oh OK if there’s a disease there’ll be a medical solution, it will be fixed and I’ll move on with my life. So being diagnosed and becoming this ill, [there was] definitely a grieving process that I went through.” However, despite the distressing misfortunes they have had to endure, the couple remains hopeful that a successful treatment will be found so they can resume their lives together. Scott said, “We’re absolutely committed to one another,” Scott said, “and we’re going to wait as long as it takes to see if there is some kind of healing.”