For more than a year, this 29-year-old has remained in her sealed room. Fitted with an airlock and HEPA air filters, she remains there as if she leaves she suffers the very real possibility she might die.Previously healthy school teacher, Johanna Watkins, 29 suffers from severe allergies. Not just the types that most people have to cats or dogs or mould. Johanna Watkins is allergic to everything.
From all foods, except a tiny list of 15 items, to scents, toothpaste, chemicals, environmental triggers and body odours produced by most people, even her husband.The 29-year-old from Minnesota in the US has mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), a rare immunological condition in which the body overproduces the chemicals responsible for controlling allergic reactions.
If she is exposed to any of her trigger - her husband’s scent, a waft of cleaning fluid, the smell of a neighbour cooking she goes into anaphylactic shock.
The windows of the room remain covered as even UV light can cause her cells to trigger and the family who allow her and Scott to live in their home cannot even cook their children’s meals in case Johanna has a reaction.
She is a prisoner in her own body.“It attacks my throat and my lungs and I start coughing and I can’t stop,” she told People. “Then my vision will completely blur and my throat will become tight like Darth Vader is doing a chokehold on me. My whole body goes into intense pain and I get migraines so badly that they actually leave bruises on my head.”
Even the chemicals used in cleaning ambulances exacerbate her condition meaning her husband has to drive her to hospital when she has an attack but that in itself is tricky as it means exposure to chemicals in the hospital, and her husband.
Strangely Johanna hasn’t always had this condition.Scott told People they met when they were both teachers together and Johanna was healthy and vibrant.
“She was a first grade teacher and I was a second grade teacher, so it really was destiny,” he said.
“We noticed each other right away and I took way too long to ask her out.”
“After we got married, we wanted to have kids,” Johanna said. “I’d always wanted to be a mum and I thought I would be one. We made so many plans.”
But she soon began to deteriorate. Doctor after doctor they visited with one finally giving Johanna the devastating diagnosis.
But so far, Johanna’s body hasn’t responded to medications or chemotherapy. Instead, her symptoms continue to get worse.Johanna can eat only once a day and it’s limited to only 15 foods (including spices) that her body will tolerate.
She says she has lived for a year on just two meals:
Organic grass-fed beef with water, celery and organic carrots and organic parsnips that are peeled, cored and mashed or ground lamb with peeled organic cucumbers.
“I have been eating these same two meals for over a year of my life and they still taste good to me,” she told People.
While she cannot be in contact with her husband, as she is allergic to his body odour, the few people she is not allergic to must use a special scent-free soap, avoid all scented products and stick to a diet free of garlic, onions and pepper. If Johanna comes into contact with one of these triggers, her body goes into anaphylaxis.
Her allergy to her own husband only developed after Scott had a haircut in January.
“He came home and he showered several times and put a mask on and put on clothes that we keep in my room,” Johanna told People “About two minutes after he came into my room I went into
“At that point, we figured out that I had become allergic to my husband.”
“It’s been several months and it’s still very sad.”Scott told People that the couple Skype, SMS and watch TV programs together from different rooms on their laptops.
KMSP reports that Johanna’s body only tolerates the presence of her two siblings, who work as their sister's caregivers. Johanna said that she is so sensitive to smells that she began to react to a small GoPro camera that her brother used to film her living conditions for a TV report.
When their home was damaged by water during the couple had to move out and went to stay with friends Dan and Lucy Olson.
The gracious couple – who have four children under the age of nine - moved into two bedrooms, giving Johanna the master bedroom, while Scott sleeps in a bedroom downstairs. He prepares all Johanna’s meals in a separate kitchen in the basement.
To keep their Johanna safe, the Olsons agreed to stop cooking, eating and using scented household products inside their own home.
Scott says even if a neighbour lights a barbecue the smell eventually reaches Johanna and causes her to enter the early stages of anaphylaxis.
“They’ve given up grilling and campfires because they know how sick my wife is,” Scott said. “We’ve received so much support.”And even more online. A GoFundMe page to raise money for a permanent residence for the couple has now raised over $100,000. The couple say they have closed on a home and are raising money to renovate the residence, turning it into “a safe living space for Johanna.
Scott says the transformation of his wife has been painful, but it has only made him love his wife more.
“When you can’t see the person you love you have to do things more intentionally. Through this, my love for my wife has grown.”