‘I’m not going to stop’: Dexter mom stays active in community while battling rare illness

Posted May 07, 2014, at 11:46 a.m.
Rick, Harley and Krystal Ahern
Contributed photo
Rick, Harley and Krystal Ahern

DEXTER, Maine — Krystal Ahern will be observing Mother’s Day like millions of other moms. But she won’t be going out to a restaurant meal and no one can bring fancy balloons to her Bryant Road home in Dexter.

“With restaurants, you never know what to expect,” Ahern said. “It could be something they’re cooking or something a customer is wearing.”

Balloons, specifically the latex type, are particularly dangerous. “I coded [stopped breathing] more than once due to latex,” she explained.

Ahern, a 30-year-old mother raising four children, has mastocytosis, an uncommon disease characterized by increased numbers of mast cells in the body. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, mast cells are mainly involved in the allergic reaction in humans. “After Harley [her 7-year-old daughter] was born, I found more than 30 things I was allergic to,” she said, “and I stopped counting.”

Although the genetic defect might have been present since birth, Ahern didn’t experience severe allergic reactions until she was in the fifth grade. “I had serious breathing problems, so they kept treating me for asthma,” she said.

When she joined the ski patrol at Hermon Mountain at age 16, she started noticing a reaction to latex. “At first, it was just my hands swelling up, so I didn’t think anything of it,” Ahern said.

As she got older, however, she couldn’t tolerate certain foods — and at one time, couldn’t eat for 12 days. For a while, solid foods were completely off the menu. “It’s tough to buy clothes when you’re my height [5-foot-7] and 115 pounds,” she said with a grin. “Adult clothes would fall off me and kid’s clothes were too short.”

Today, Ahern has regained her weight and tries to stay as active as possible, even though she plans to slow down her pace a bit. “I’ve coached rec league and farm league baseball, but it got to be a 7-day-a-week job,” she said. “I’m backing away this year, but I don’t make a very good ‘spectator mom.’ If they ask for help, I probably can’t say ‘no.’”

In addition to Harley, Krystal and her husband, Rick, have sons Chandler and Wyatt, who are both 9; and son Jordan, 12.

The couple is also active in Cub Scouts and Krystal is now a Cubmaster for a pack of 15 to 20 boys and does everything expected of her — and then some.

At a Scout camp last year, she had an unexpected allergic reaction due to the smell of fresh paint. “They gave me two epis [an auto-injector of epinephrine] and an IV at the hospital,” she said, “but I was back at camp by 2 a.m.”

Ahern goes to Brigham and Women’s Hospital once a month for an exam to see how her medications are working. A new compound has permitted her to eat a few foods that were previously on the banned list — like oranges. “You don’t realize how good they taste until you haven’t had one for a while,” she said with a grin.

She also credits Mayo Regional Hospital’s staff and ambulance service for their response to many harrowing moments in her life. “If I was born with one ‘superpower,’ it would be resilience,” said Ahern. “I’m going to live my life to the fullest. I just have to be careful where I go and take precautions. I’m going to slow down, but I’m not going to stop.”

 

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