A Minnesota family has embarked on a frantic search for Costco’s Kirkland brand organic olive oil from last year or before in a desperate attempt to save the life of Johanna Watkins, a woman with severe, life-threatening allergies to almost everything in her environment, including her own husband.
The batch of organic olive oil is needed to deliver her life-sustaining medications, but she has had severe reactions to their new batches, which have apparently been reformulated. The olive oil she has been using for her medications is set to run out on Tuesday, December 20.
Johanna, a former grade school teacher, has been diagnosed with severe mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), a condition where the body’s natural allergic reactions are extremely elevated. Johanna’s MCAS is so severe that even the simplest scent can send her into a life-threatening anaphylactic allergic reaction. Her body tolerates less than 15 foods (including spices), and she hasn’t been able to leave her plastic-sealed room in a year other than to go to the hospital.
A Safe Space for Johanna | Pray for my dear friend Johanna. https://t.co/31cVjTdNwR— Rachel Boegel (@RACHELBOEGEL) November 14, 2016
Johanna receives three life-sustaining medicines in a mixture of organic extra-virgin olive oil. However, the current bottle is nearly gone, and the new bottle they purchased caused Johanna’s body to react, probably due to differences in how the batch was made.
A web site set up by the family explains the desperate situation.
“Johanna’s medicine, which is suspended in olive oil, runs out on Tuesday (Dec20). We are desperately seeking unopened bottle(s) of Kirkland Signature Extra Virgin Olive Oil expiring on or near December 10th 2016 (lot #L150782).”
The website allows visitors to register any Kirkland Signature Extra Virgin Olive Oil they have from the time needed in order to see if it can be a safe batch for her to take her necessary medicine.
Johanna’s story has been covered extensively in the media, including by People and the Washington Post.
Local newscaster Karen Scullin, who covered Johanna’s story in November for Fox 9, shared a family friend’s desperate plea for the olive oil in question to her Facebook page Thursday.
“Many of you know I shared the amazing story of Johanna Watkins in November. She is a remarkable woman who lives completely inside and isolated as she has a tremendous number of allergies,” she wrote. “She takes three medications that have to be mixed with a certain organic olive oil that they cannot find. The situation is dire as she is suffering greatly without her medication.”
The message, originally posted by family friend Phil Lindskog, detailed the dire situation.
“URGENT, PLEASE SHARE: Does anyone have an unopened bottle of recently expired or almost expired Kirkland Organic Olive Oil? This is URGENT as it is the fluid that Johanna Watkins can tolerate to take her life saving medicines and they are almost out of it. The bottle should be almost expired or already expired.”
Lindskog explained that expiration dates closest to the beginning of December 2016 are preferred, especially any that were purchased from the St. Louis Park Costco or a Minnesota Costco, but bottles from any Costco will do.
Lindskog said that Scott and Johanna bought their bottle between one and two years ago. Somewhere in that time frame is when the currently-expiring and now-needed batch was released, he said. He said the couple’s best bet would be a Costco customer who buys organic olive oil in bulk to stock their pantry.
A GoFundMe page that was set up to help the family explains that Johanna has a severe, progressive case of mast cell disease, which causes her body to develop life-threatening anaphylactic reactions to just about anything. Johanna is currently allergic to over 100 things, including many foods, scents, and various environmental triggers. They say she experienced anaphylaxis and required hospitalizations “more times than we care to count.”
In early 2016, things got even worse as Johanna began to develop allergic reactions to the natural chemicals and body odors that people release and became inexplicably allergic to her own husband. Because of this, even though the couple is still happily married and in love, they have had to live in separate areas and were unable to be together. Right now, her body only tolerates her siblings, and they have taken on the role of her caregivers.
There is no known cure for this disease, and its treatment has been complicated. A leading expert on Johanna’s illness, Dr. Lawrence Afrin, has been treating her at the University of Minnesota hospital. Johanna has been trying various medications and treatments for two years without success and recently underwent four rounds of chemotherapy in an attempt to stop the aggressive progression of the disease. Unfortunately, chemo was not successful, and they will be trying new treatments, some of which come with “high risks and harsh side effects.”
For now, the most urgent need is finding the olive oil she needs to deliver her medicine. Family and friends are asking people to search their pantries and share the story in hopes of finding someone who has the oil.
[Featured Image by Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock]