Jo Cameron does not feel pain.
The 71-year-old Scottish woman has gone her whole life largely oblivious to the ache of a stubbed toe, the burn of a too-hot beverage and even, the pain of giving birth.
”I was going through childbirth and ‘as soon as I feel pain, I’ll ask for it, I’ll ask for it,’ and before I realized it, I’d had the children,” says Cameron.
This isn’t a case of being a “martyr,” she says.
“I felt things, I felt my body stretching, I felt peculiar feelings, but nothing to make me, no pain. It just felt a bit like someone stretching your mouth wide open.”
Researchers first realized Cameron couldn’t feel pain five years ago when she required no pain medication after a “normally painful” hand surgery. Once they started to dig into her case, they realized she had a history of painlessness: of injuries that healed quickly and without hurting her.
Scientists say the reason is likely the result of a genetic mutation. They studied Cameron, her mother, her son and her daughter. While Cameron doesn’t feel pain, her mother and daughter do. Her son has a more minor insensitivity to pain and researchers were able to isolate four possible mutations in both mother and son. Cameron’s father may have shared similar gene mutations as he reportedly “had little requirement for painkillers.” However, he died.
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In addition to feeling almost no pain, Cameron is remarkably un-anxious. Researchers found that not only was she in the lowest category for depression, she “also reported never panicking, not even in dangerous or fearful situations.”
Scientists published the results of their research this week in the British Journal of Anaesthesia. They say Cameron is one of only two people in the world with this specific mutation.
Their hope? To use knowledge of it to “significantly improve” people’s post-operative pain treatment, as well as treatment for chronic pain and anxiety disorders.
But while Cameron might not feel pain, she says she does get embarrassed by some of her slips and falls. Once, while on vacation, she “headbutted” concrete, cutting her face, losing her front teeth, and giving herself a black eye.
Her husband offered to take her home.
“I said, ‘No it’s OK. I will just wear sunglasses and keep my mouth shut for the holiday,’” Cameron says. “I didn’t feel any pain from it. I felt stupid but no pain.”
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— with files from Reuters