Since April of 2016, 29-year-old Minnesotan Johanna Watkins has been unable to be in the same room as her husband due to an intense allergic reaction to the natural scent of his body. While that might sound like a great sitcom premise, the allergy has become utterly life-changing for the couple. Johanna and Scott Watkins married in 2013, and everything started out perfectly normal for the couple until Johanna began having intense allergic reactions when in the presence of her husband.

The happy couple before Johanna's allergies became severe.

After the allergies became worse and more widespread, Watkins discovered she suffers from a mysterious illness known as Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. This rare condition has only begun to be studied and understood, having first been documented in medical journals only a decade ago. The symptoms include migraines, rashes, irritable bowel syndrome, broad food allergies, and even sensitivity to sunlight. Johanna cannot be in the presence of any chemical scents, and subsists on a very specific diet of only organic beef stew or roast lamb flavored with just a few spices.

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Johanna now weighs 90 pounds.

Last year, an online campaign was launched to help Watkins track down bottles of a specific batch of Kirkland Signature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Due to being allergic to common pill fillers, binders, and medication suspensions, Watkins can only take her immunosuppressant and antihistamine drugs suspended in the olive oil.

Johanna's husband and siblings have become her full-time caretakers.

Due to the overwhelming list of substances and environments that cause Watkins’ allergic reactions, Johanna lives in an attic room completely sealed from the outside environment. The only people with whom Watkins can have contact are her siblings, possibly owing to their genetic similarity. Watkins told Minnesota newspaper The Winona Daily News that the isolation her rare and unexplained condition has forced her into has taken a toll on her and her family:

I still have good days and bad days, so there's been physical pain as well as emotional pain. Everybody needs people. We weren't meant to be alone. Losing my husband was an especially painful loss. We're hoping it isn't forever.

There is currently no known cure or treatment for Mast Cell Activation Syndrome aside from lifestyle changes. A GoFundMe campaign to build her a safe, hypoallergenic home can be found here.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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