Imagine not being able to eat or drink anything without the fear that it could kill you. That’s the reality that 22-year-old gymnast Natasha Coates, of Nottingham, England, has to live with every day. Coates has a condition called Mast Cell Activation Syndrome which means that she’s allergic to everything including her hair and tears.
According to The Mastocytosis Society, mast cells are immune system cells that have a lot of functions, but they are primarily responsible for protecting the body from infection. When you have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, these cells don’t work properly. So they can release too many histamines when trying to safeguard the body from a potential infection or they can release these chemicals when there’s no need to. This triggers spontaneous reactions that can be devastating.
Coates discussed her condition on an episode of Barcroft TV. She explained that sometimes the condition triggers something as mild as just feeling unwell to something as serious as swelling of the throat and tongue. Coates added that she first noticed something was wrong in 2012 when she started having allergic reactions to fruits like apples and strawberries. The skin around her mouth would blister when she ate them. The doctors first thought that she had Oral Allergy Syndrome. Then she had a major anaphylactic reaction that put her in the hospital.
After years of having serious allergic reactions, Natasha was diagnosed with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. The condition means that she can’t allow her hair to grow because it causes painful blisters when it does.
“I just have to make the bald girl look work, really,” she said. “I don’t have a choice.”
She also develops a red rash on her face when she cries.
The syndrome can be triggered by anything. Coates said that its hard to predict what will cause a reaction because sometimes her body might be “okay” with something, but then have a more serious and frightening episode at another time. She added that the condition means that she’s not allowed to do many of the things that many 22-year-olds take for granted. She cannot drink alcohol, for example. She limits her diet to the foods that have not caused allergic reactions in the past and her mother said that she cleans often to reduce the number of allergens in the house.
Honestly it’s not the medals that I’m proud of. It’s the things I’ve overcome to win them. It’s surviving the seemingly unsurvivable and fighting back. It’s the hours at the gym, failing but always getting back up. I’ve proved those who said I could never do it that I can! pic.twitter.com/qqJA6So4BF— Natasha Coates (@NatashaCoatesGB) November 9, 2017
But Mast Cell Activation hasn’t dulled her love for gymnastics. She explained that she’s been training since age 8, but couldn’t keep up with regular gymnastics because of her diagnosis. So, she switched to disability gymnastics. But it’s still challenging because the syndrome causes her to lose feeling in her body–from her elbows to her knees– when she exercises. It’s her persistence and stubbornness that keeps her moving forward, she said.
Coates was named Disabled Sportsperson of The Year in 2015 and is ranked as the number one disability gymnast in the U.K, The Sun reports.