A champion British gymnast has revealed that living with an extremely rare and debilitating medical condition means that she could literally die from something as simple as laughing, crying, or sweating. Natasha Coates is only 20 but has already planned her own funeral due to her serious health issue.
Coates is literally allergic to strong feelings of any kind. She suffers from an immunological disorder known as mast cell activation syndrome in which she experiences “repeated severe allergy symptoms affecting several body systems,” the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology explains. “I’m allergic to strong emotion,” the 27-year-old explains simply. “Any changes to my body’s status quo — whether I’m laughing, crying, sad, or stressed — can cause a chemical reaction.”
In one instance, Coates nearly died from laughing too hard. She was enjoying a joke with her friends but it all went horribly wrong. “We were having a good laugh when my tongue and throat swelled up,” she recalled in an interview with The Mirror. “One friend called an ambulance, while another helped me use my EpiPen to stop me choking and suffocating to death. They stroked my hair, telling me I’d be OK as I lost consciousness before being whisked into intensive care. Quite the end to a night out.”
Coates wants to bring more awareness to her condition. While it might seem really trivial when you first hear about it, Coates wants people to know that her condition is extremely serious. Taking part in a recent documentary called The Girl Who’s Allergic To Herself, she explained: “In my body, my cells are hypersensitive. So they release an excess of these chemicals at the slightest trigger, for example food or exercise or heat or being stung. And sometimes they release chemicals when there’s no trigger. If they release enough of these chemicals they can send me into anaphylactic shock, which can be potentially life-threatening.”
She’s been hospitalized over 500 times. Because of her condition, Coates has been in and out of the hospital over the past 10 or so years. She had her first anaphylactic shock at 18. “I was at a big public event when I suddenly felt shaky, dizzy and found it hard to breathe. I was taken to hospital with a police escort,” she says. “I was unconscious, so I missed all the excitement, but when I came round in hospital I was frightened.” However, it wasn’t until two years later that she was diagnosed.
Thankfully, Coates has (mostly) learned how to manage her condition. Everyone in her family knows how to use an EpiPen, she takes medication to try and reduce the chances of a reaction, and she even uses “assistive technology” to help keep her safe. “If I press a button on my watch, the lights on the front of my house change to red and an ambulance is called,” she says. She adds that keeping herself alive is a full-time job. “I do have to avoid social situations sometimes. I go on a risk versus reward basis. I study menus beforehand, take extra medication and hope for the best. I need to know where the nearest hospital is, that I’ve got my care plan and enough medication.” Hopefully, she’s able to still enjoy life!