The Tomato

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Cure found for rare disorder that had turned sufferers into blocks of cheese

Photo by Mico Mazza

Family and friends of Marc Adams gathered outside his west-end Ottawa home Tuesday morning to show their support as the 29-year-old video game developer walked through a doorway for the very first time.

Adams was born with a rare disorder called Avoiddoorance syndrome. This disorder is so rare that it affects only one five-thousandth of a per cent of the world’s population. Adams’ case is the second instance of the illness recorded in North America since 1911.

Avoiddoorance syndrome has devastating effects on the normal social function of affected individuals. Those afflicted are unable to walk through doorways, and are forced to find other means of getting in and out of buildings.

Doorways have become such an important part of daily life in Canada that free movement for those like Adams is exceedingly difficult. Sufferers of Avoiddoorance are likely to end up isolated and unable to move from place to place.

When a person with Avoiddoorance passes through a doorway, they experience a severe spike in blood pressure, become incredibly anxious, and then turn into a block of cheese. The level of anxiety prior to transformation determines the severity of damage that the individual suffers during the cheese phase, which is known among health professionals as the “block period.”

The type of cheese that the individual turns into is an indication of the severity experienced during transformation. Mozzarella is considered mild, while blue cheese or aged cheddar may prove fatal.

After the block period, the affected individual resumes his or her normal form in 48 hours. But the transformation causes severe damage to muscle tissue and the nervous system, and as few as three transformations can prove fatal.

Adams has already undergone one transformation. Shortly after his birth, a nurse carried him through a doorway into the baby ward. Immediately after coming into contact with the door, he became a block of Gouda, a relatively mild cheese and reaction. Knowing that any more exposure to doors would prove fatal, doctors had to perform a delicate window extraction when they signed Adams out of the hospital.

Despite these setbacks, Adams has strived to live a normal life, spending as much time as he can outdoors where he can enjoy unrestricted freedom. His family has accommodated for his rare needs by living in open concept housing and ensuring that accessible windows were installed.

Friends and family have also tried to be as accommodating as possible, creating safe, door-free spaces for Adams.

“It can be tough,” said Jeannie Adams, Marc’s grandmother. “He has to bike to places because he can’t get on a bus, or enter a car. He is really limited to how far he can travel.”

But in the past 12 months Marc’s family has been working with doctors to develop a cure for the condition plaguing this young man, one which might also help others like him.

“I’d never heard of a grown man turning dairy,” said Dr. Brienan, the lead doctor assigned to find a cure for Avoiddoorance. “But after I heard about Marc, I’ve committed my life to finding some answers, which I think we’ve finally been able to find. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get the gouda out of Marc’s life.”

According to Dr. Brienan, the key is an exposure to red wine. When near a doorway, having some red wine in his system — Merlot and Malbec are the most effective — greatly reduced Adams’ negative reactions.

Wine and cheese have been combined throughout the centuries. Dr. Brienan came to the conclusion that an individual suffering from Avoiddoorance contains too much of a cheesy element in his or her system that must be combined with a similar matching element.

It is not yet known why doorways trigger this rare illness, but for people like Adams ,the important thing is that they can finally move on with their lives.

“When I walked through a door for the first time last week,” said Adams. “I wasn’t scared anymore. Besides smelling a bit like a block of aged cheddar, I was symptom-free. Avoiddoorance doesn’t control me anymore. Now I’m the one in charge.”