Johanna Watkins (29) can no longer be in the same room as her husband but this is no marital spat. The Minnesota native suffers from Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS), which is a rare immune system disorder that renders her allergic to almost everything, including the scent of her husband. In this syndrome, the cells that are supposed to provide protection from external threats mutate, attacking the patient’s body instead.
Their date nights consist of two separate laptops and three floors of distance between them as they text while watching the same show. Johanna currently lives in the attic with sealed windows and doors, in addition to air filters that purify the air she breathes. She has not left this space for over a year, asides from when making hospital or doctor visits. Despite this, the couple are determined to remain together.
Life was relatively normal for Ms. Watkins in 2013 when she married her husband, and she was even able to maintain her job as a teacher and an active lifestyle with only mild irritations such as rashes, IBS, or migraines.
They told the BBC that they noticed symptoms growing worse until Johanna went into anaphylactic shock after Scott arrived home following a haircut. While she had previously reacted to her parents and other people, this was the first time she could not share the same room as her husband.
Johanna claims that the treatment and medication for MCAS do not work for her and is unsure whether her condition will ever improve. She can tolerate only two meals, which Scott prepares for her, organic beef stew or organic lamb.
Her siblings remain the only people she does not have a life-threatening reaction to, and they help to care for her. Before they can visit her, they must ensure that they have not eaten spicy food, wash with a special soap, strip down to their underwear and then put on masks and clothes that have never left their sister’s room. Her condition still often grows worse after these visits.