Jo Cameron, a woman from Whitebridge, near Inverness is extremely insensitive to pain. She only realizes that her skin is burning when she smells her scorched tissue. She often burns her arm, however, feels no pain that could alarm her. It is mainly because she is one of those two women who has developed a rare genetic mutation.
It implies that she feels almost no pain, hence is also devoid of getting afraid or nervous. She wasn’t able to diagnose the issue herself until she was 65; it was only when she did not need any pain killers after a serious surgery.
When she had a medical procedure on her hand, specialists warned her of extreme pain after it. When she didn’t feel anything, her anesthetist – Dr. Devjit Srivastava – sent her to pain geneticists at University College London (UCL) and Oxford University.
After tests, they found out gene mutations which did not let her feel pain, unlike others. Jo says that the doctors did not believe her when she told them that she will not need any pain killers after the medical procedure.
She said: “We had banter before theatre when I guaranteed I wouldn’t need painkillers. “When he found I hadn’t had any, he checked my medical history and found I had never asked for painkillers.”
At this stage, Jo was asked to meet specialists in England. Once analyzed, Jo understood that she wasn’t simply “incredibly healthy”, as she used to believe before.
She said: “Looking back, I realize I hadn’t needed painkillers, but if you don’t need them you don’t question why you don’t. You are what you are until someone points it out you don’t question it. I was just a happy soul who didn’t realize there was anything different about me.”
Unlike others, she did not feel any pain in childbirth too. “It was just strange, but I didn’t have pain. It was quite enjoyable really.”
Jim her husband, Jo herself and her anesthetist Dr. Devjit Srivastava, participated in a chili challenge where both the men lost and Jo was enjoying and smiling.
Jo is determined not to change anything, however, thinks pain is essential and says: “Pain is there for a reason, it warns you-you to hear alarm bells. It would be nice to have a warning when something’s wrong – I didn’t know my hip was gone until it was really gone, I physically couldn’t walk with my arthritis.”
The specialists also believe that Jo has a more quick healing power than others. The mutated genes have also helped her to be forgetful and less anxious.
“It’s called the happy gene or forgetful gene. I have been annoying people by being happy and forgetful all my life – I’ve got an excuse now,” she said. Jo recently had a small car bump but was found to be unmoved by the accident. “I don’t have adrenalin. You should have that warning, it’s a part of being human, but I wouldn’t change it.”
The other driver, she stated, was “shaking like anything”, yet she was still able to remain calm. “I don’t get that reaction… it’s not brave, the fear just doesn’t happen.” The researchers believe that there must be more people like Jo.
“One out of two patients after surgery today still experiences moderate to severe pain, despite all advances in pain killer medications. It remains to be seen if any new treatments could be developed based on our findings,” said Dr. Srivastava.
“The findings point towards a novel painkiller discovery that could potentially offer post-surgical pain relief and also accelerate wound healing. We hope this could help the 330 million patients who undergo surgery globally every year.”
Jo’s case is the subject of a journal published in the British Journal of Anesthesia, composed by Dr. Srivastava and Dr. James Cox, of UCL.
Dr. Cox said: “People with rare insensitivity to pain can be valuable to medical research as we learn how their genetic mutations impact how they experience pain, so we would encourage anyone who does not experience pain to come forward.
“We hope that with time, our findings might contribute to clinical research for post-operative pain and anxiety, and potentially chronic pain, PTSD and wound healing.”