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GoFundMe launched for Vancouver NICU nurse battling rare illness

Melissa Loewen is battling a rare immunological disease called Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. Her treatment is expected to cost $100,000.
vancouver nicu nurse gofundme
Prior to falling ill in 2018, Melissa Loewen was a NICU Nurse at BC Women’s Hospital in Vancouver. She’s been physically and mentally unable to work ever since. Photo: GoFundMe / Vancouver NICU RN Melissa Loewen battles MCAS

Friends have launched a GoFundMe campaign in support of a Vancouver nurse whose debilitating immunological disease requires a pricey treatment. 

Melissa Loewen is battling a rare illness known as Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, or MCAS, according to the campaign's description page. 

The immunological disease affects the entire body through a severe overreaction of the immune system, leaving the 28-year-old unable to tolerate any food without triggering an allergic reaction. "Her body is in a constant fight or flight mode and inflammation has taken over," the GoFundMe page explained. "She’s barely able to make it through an entire day without chronic fatigue and moderate to severe allergic reactions."

While Loewen has "finally" found a doctor in Calgary who specializes in the disease, the Hoffman Centre is private, meaning it's not covered by B.C.'s medical services plan or Loewen’s private health insurance.  In advance of an upcoming appointment at the Centre, Loewen was reportedly quoted $25,000 for an initial consultation and first round of testing, and was told that additional costs for her treatment plans, medications, follow-ups and further testing are expected to amount to $80,000 to $100,000.

“I hope and believe that God will use my story to help other people who have been in a similar situation," read a note from Loewen posted to the GoFundMe page. "I don’t know the big picture, and while it’s a fight [every day] to not give up, I know that God is growing me and bettering me to be a stronger and more tenacious person than I ever could have been without going through this.”

Loewen's diagnosis is the culmination of a lifetime of "misunderstood" health issues that have significantly worsened over the past three years.  

"What began as migraines, bloating and strange 'food intolerances,' has quickly evolved into brain fog, memory loss, and regular anaphylactic reactions," the GoFundMe page states, adding that Loewen's symptoms deteriorated to the point where she began involuntarily throwing up after "almost every meal" about two years ago. "In the past few months Melissa has been admitted to the Emergency Department following severe allergic reactions." 

The symptoms were severe enough to prevent Loewen from continuing to work full-time as a registered nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the  BC Women’s Hospital in Vancouver. She was placed on medical leave in 2018.

"She’s been physically and mentally unable to work ever since," the campaign's organizer wrote. "The financial burden is too great for one couple to [bear]." 

Loewen was previously misdiagnosed with Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, IBS and Celiac Disease, before her illness was most recently identified as MCAS. Meanwhile, her dietary intolerances "have drastically worsened as of late, leaving her malnourished and chronically fatigued," campaign organizers explained. "With more food allergies developing each day, lately she’s been only safely able to eat beef.  However, this 'safe food' has just recently been triggering an allergic reaction as well in her body."

Now, with virtually no food left that she can safely consume, campaign organizers say Loewen and her husband Damon "are willing to go to any lengths to find some relief," including pursuing the costly treatment. 

"They recognize that this is an extremely overwhelming amount of money, but are desperate for her healing and will follow through no matter the cost. They thank you in advance for your support, in whatever way possible," the GoFundMe page states. 

As of Saturday afternoon, the campaign has raised just over $22,000 of its $100,000 goal. 

"Anything helps, whether that’s simply educating yourself on MCAS, your prayers or financial aid," reads the campaign's description. "Nothing goes unnoticed. We completely understand that not everyone is in the financial position right now to donate, but a simple like or share will go [a long] way!"