Martina Baker was born normal but over the years she began suffering from a rare disease and could be killed even by a strong smell; a disease called Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS). An immunological condition that make her allergic to “almost anything”, including heat, water, cooking oil and perfume.
From Maine, USA, Martina has to take a ‘pharmacy’ of medication to keep the symptoms at bay. But now, after raising $10,000 (£7,700), there’s a new hope for Martina as her family have been able to get her a highly-trained assistance dog who could help to save her life.
Recently, she was able to sit through a movie at a cinema for the first time in years – giving her a new lease of life.
“Caiomhe (the dog) has changed my life, I feel so much safer with her around, I am able to have a social life again,” said Martina, who was forced to miss school and stay at home in a sealed room to avoid anaphylactic shocks. “I lost a lot of friends after I developed MCAS, it’s hard for people to handle, for them to watch me collapse and have to take my EpiPen and be rushed to hospital all the time,” added Martina, who lives in Wiscasset.
Until two and a half years ago Martina was completely healthy, but overnight she was suddenly overcome by terrifying symptoms.
“I wasn’t allergic to anything before, then one day I woke up with hives all over my body. I had to go to the hospital because I had an anaphylactic reaction. My throat started swelling up with hives. They treated me with an EpiPen,” she narrated.
Last summer a skunk sprayed off outside Martina’s bedroom window, she went into anaphylactic shock and had to be rushed to A&E. Afterwards she had to go and live with a friend for almost two weeks while her bedroom windows and door completely sealed up.
“We took her to see a specialist in every major discipline, everything from cardiologists to psychologists,” said Loretta (mother), who eventually took Martina to an immunologist in Massachusetts named Jonathan Bayuk, who correctly diagnosed her with MCAS.
Thanks to Caiomhe and regular mast cell stabilizing drugs Martina’s anaphylactic episodes have reduced from three times a week to once every four to six weeks.
Martina often wears a mask when she goes outside and the family still has to be very careful in their home.
Loretta cleans with vinegar instead of cleaning products and has stopped using all detergents on sheets and clothing. They must practice “odorless cooking” and spend a lot of time grilling outside, even in winter.
Caiomhe was trained by Jamie Robinson, a specialist in Tucson, Arizona – one of the only people in the world to train dogs to assist MCAS patients. Jamie trained Caiomhe to identify a long list of smells that are life-threatening triggers for Martina.
“A dog’s nose is about 100,000 times better than a human nose and just about every biochemical process in our bodies is indicated with a change in scent,” said Jamie, 66, who runs her own service dog business called Access to Service Corp.
Jamie had Martina send her pieces of clothing she had worn so Caiomhe could get used to her scent, including when she was in anaphylaxis because, to a dog, that scent is different.
Caiomhe can now sniff out when Martina is having a reaction before Martina realizes it, because she can smell the release of histamine from her body.