She could literally die laughing.
Natasha Coates suffers from a rare condition in which anything from sweating to laughing can trigger a potentially fatal allergic reaction — an affliction so dangerous she planned her own funeral at 20.
Despite her debilitating disease, she has managed to excel at gymnastics and become an online inspiration to others with the ailment.
“I’m allergic to strong emotions,” said the UK survivor, 27, of her harrowing saga in videos posted to her popular Instagram and TikTok accounts. “Any changes to my body’s status quo — whether I’m laughing, crying, sad or stressed — can cause a chemical reaction.”
Coates specifically suffers from mast cell activation syndrome, a rare immunological disorder in which a person experiences “repeated severe allergy symptoms affecting several body systems,” according to the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology.
The Nottingham native recalled one instance where she almost literally died laughing, describing: “We were having a good laugh when my tongue and throat swelled up.”
“In MCAS, mast cells mistakenly release too many chemical agents, resulting in symptoms in the skin, gastrointestinal tract, heart, respiratory, and neurologic systems,” experts at the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center reported.
“One friend called an ambulance, while another helped me use my EpiPen to stop me choking and suffocating to death,” Coates told the Mirror. “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.”
“In my body, my cells are hypersensitive,” Coates explained while describing her condition in a recent documentary titled “The Girl Who’s Allergic to Herself.”
“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,” she continued. “If they release enough of these chemicals they can send me into anaphylactic shock, which can be potentially life-threatening.”
As a result of her MCAS, the embattled athlete experiences reactions nearly every day and has been hospitalized over 500 times.
“When I feel it starting, I get upset and try to suppress it, otherwise I’ll have a worse reaction — it’s a vicious circle,” lamented Coates.
The Brit’s MCAS first reared its head when she was younger and would have strange reactions to food, which her family initially dismissed as hypersensitivity.
Then, at 18, Coates experienced her first anaphylactic attack. “I was at a big public event when I suddenly felt shaky, dizzy and found it hard to breathe,” said the petrified youngster athlete. “I was taken to hospital with a police escort.”
She added, “I was unconscious, so I missed all the excitement, but when I came round in hospital I was frightened.”
Despite the life-threatening episode, doctors assured Coates that this was normal, leaving her thinking she’d experienced a “once-in-a-lifetime reaction.”
It wasn’t until two years later — and countless reactions, many of which landed her in the emergency room — that the poor gal was finally diagnosed with MCAS.
Needless to say, life became a living hell. “I’m allergic to body sprays, cleaning products and scented candles,” Coates explained. “Eating is still a bit like Russian roulette.
“A food that’s fine today could give me an allergic reaction tomorrow,” added the unfortunate sportswoman, who had initially tried to identify the offending foods. Pretty soon, she’d whittled her diet down only chicken, potatoes and broccoli, which caused her to become malnourished.
Not to mention that her self-imposed eating regimen ultimately proved futile. “Because of the chemicals released when I’m digesting food, sometimes it’s not what I’m eating but the digestion process that triggers anaphylaxis,” rued Coates.
She analogized living with MCAS to a “ticking time bomb,” describing: “It’s frightening for my family, wondering which reaction is going to be my last.”
Eventually, the youngster said she came to “accept that this condition could kill me.”
“I planned my funeral aged 20,” Coates said, detailing the seemingly morbid measure. “I know that’s not normal but by being organised, I know I’m having a Beyoncé song!”
Thankfully, she has since implemented protocols to prevent the worst from happening, including taking medication to mitigate reactions, making sure each member knows how to use an EpiPen and even employing “assistive technology.”
“If I press a button on my watch, the lights on the front of my house change to red and an ambulance is called,” said Coates. The brave gal was even able to move out of her parents’ house and live on her own — albeit with a personal assistant by her side five days a week.
Coates said that “keeping myself alive is a full-time job.”
“I do have to avoid social situations sometimes,” she said. “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.”
Interestingly, despite her myriad allergenic triggers, Coates has reportedly found salvation in gymnastics, which she says saved her both physically and mentally.
This naturally poses risk, however, due to both the sweating and the fact that physical activity messes with her senses.
“The chemicals released in my brain when I exercise cause me to lose my elbows down to my knees down,” explained Coates on TikTok. “So when I catch the high bar I can’t actually feel myself catching the high bar.”
She added, per the Mirror: “So when I whack my shin on the beam, there’s a big bump — and any injury can cause a reaction. I badly damaged my knee in 2019 and went into anaphylaxis.”
Nonetheless, the trailblazing gal, who competes in the Disability British Championships, has set a high bar in the sport, amassing over 20 British titles and 30-something British medals, per the documentary.
Describing why she competes despite the potential for injury, the competitor described: “The only people who tell me I should stop gymnastics are those who don’t understand me. It gives me so much more than it takes away. The allergic reactions will happen anyway, even if I’m sitting at home doing nothing, so I may as well be out living my life.”
While certainly an inspiration, the flip wizard ultimately wishes she wasn’t afflicted with MCAS.
“I can cope with anything but I’m allowed to have bad days. There’s no point pretending it’s OK — because I’m not OK with it. If I could click my fingers and be cured, I’d do it instantly.”
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