On paper, Camille was a force to be reckoned with. She was blessed with good looks and an imposing stature. She also had an impressive list of qualifications, including a master’s in education. On the surface then, the former model seemed to have it all. However, something fishy was going on in her life – something so bad that it affected her in both a personal and professional sense. In fact, things were so dire that she was ready to call it a day, once and for all.
Back in 2006 a story surfaced about a former model and teacher known only as Camille. Bizarrely, the woman had a rare condition which made her smell of rotten fish. Wherever she went the odor would follow, and to her immense distress, Camille had no way of controlling it. In her own words, she told Primetime that it was a “very heavy, intense, dark, deep smell.” In fact, the pong was so strong that it directly impacted her happiness and her professional and personal relationships.
The stench was unforgiving. Speaking to Primetime, Camille lamented how the smell would accompany her everywhere and fill any space she was in. “I didn’t know why I was emitting such a strong odor,” she said. “I mean, it can fill an entire room. Recently, it filled an auditorium.” Fans and fresh air did not seem to help.
Camille was self-conscious at the best of times, so when her students started calling her names, it sent her into a downward spiral. As well as avoiding her, Camille’s students would brand her “Miss Fishy” and drop pointed barbs such as, “Ew, this classroom stinks like dead fish.” Rather than fulfill her, her job became a source of immense anguish. As a result, she would weep on her journey home from school.
The fishy whiff was not exactly a new problem for Camille. She’d been dealing with her unwelcome companion for 30 years, since first grade in fact, but that hadn’t made things any easier. The treatment she received from her teachers and fellow students certainly didn’t resolve any anxieties she had about her condition.
She shared some of her most painful memories with Primetime, vivid recollections that made for painful viewing. Remembering one particular incident, Camille said, “One of my teachers asked me if I was showering every day. From that point on, she kind of sat me in the corner of the classroom. Kids would call me a freak. They would tell me I smelled like horse manure [and] dead fish.”
Another episode at school saw Camille’s peers pelting her with tuna sandwiches in the school cafeteria. Although highly embarrassing, one of the most frustrating aspects of her condition was that Camille couldn’t smell the weird scent herself. Hence she was unaware when her honk was particularly bad. This meant there were moments in her adult life that were just as humiliating as those in school.
In fact, Camille’s introduction to the world of work was a rude awakening for her. She told Primetime about her first job, which saw her isolated from her fellow workers. Starting out as a teller in a credit union, she said, “My supervisor would come by and spray my area with perfume, Lysol, and they put me in the drive-through section, which is separate from the rest of the teller area.”
Her personal life suffered too. Low feelings of self-worth meant that she never got too involved with a guy because she thought she wasn’t good enough. Thinking back to her mindset at the time, Camille admitted, “I always thought, ‘I’m a freak.’ You start to see yourself as not quite human.”
Determined to fight back, Camille saw countless doctors, none of whom could diagnose her mysterious condition. It got to a point where she felt so isolated that she considered ending it all. “You feel incredibly helpless and hopeless,” she explained. “Tired of being ridiculed and feeling like a freak. So I’m going to take my life.”
Thankfully, though, one simple internet search pulled her back from the brink. Typing “fishy body odor” into a search engine, Camille found the answer she’d been looking for for so long. She discovered that her rare disorder had a name: Trimethylaminuria, a metabolic condition that hampers the proper breakdown of food in the body. This means sufferers have a surplus of trimethylamine which, when discharged through their breath, urine or sweat, smells of dead fish.
While researching her disorder, Camille stumbled across a support group called the TMAU Foundation, run by a fellow sufferer called Sandy. She had had similar experiences and, like Camille, had initially not known what she was suffering from. Sandy had also experienced similar social disasters to Camille, including being blamed for a bad smell in the office.
Incredibly, the smell that Sandy emitted was so horrific that she thought it must be coming from her sewer. In fact, so convinced was she that her drains were playing up that she called out a maintenance man to investigate. Only when he failed to find anything – and a colleague at work told her bluntly that the foul whiff in the office was wafting in from her direction – did the penny finally drop. Thus started Sandy’s long and expensive investigation into her unknown disorder.
Sandy spent an eye-watering $27,000 and even underwent various operations in an attempt to diagnose her condition. But, like Camille, the solution had been under her nose all along. Quite literally in Sandy’s case, after a trip to a dental clinic saw a specialist examine her mouth. Exposed to Sandy’s fishy fumes, the dentist reckoned TMAU could be at play and referred her to Dr. George Preti, who practiced at Philadelphia’s Monell Chemical Senses Institute.
Fortunately for Sandy, Preti specialized in rare genetic disorders, including TMAU. With only 600 known sufferers back in 2006, it wasn’t a well-known condition, certainly not one that could be easily researched on the internet. However, Preti was a leading authority in the field and if anyone could help it was him.
Camille also paid a visit to Preti, who diagnosed her with a severe case of TMAU. As the disorder is directly linked to the digestion of certain foods, Preti told Camille she had to completely change her diet. His advice led to her pretty much clearing out her fridge.
As well as overhauling her diet, Camille discovered other ways to lessen the odor risk, most of which involved scent of some sort. “I wash with several different products, and I scrub very hard,” she told Primetime in 2006. “I use two different kinds of deodorant and a lot of perfume. Before I actually leave the house, I spray all of my clothes with Febreze just all up and down, and I also spray my feet and my socks with the deodorant for my feet.”
A big comfort for Camille was knowing that she wasn’t alone. It was a relief for her to know that someone else had been through a similar ordeal, and Sandy was more than happy to share her story. She told Camille all about the various drugs – “useless medications” she called them – prescribed to her over the years for non-existent conditions.
Looking ahead, Sandy had big plans for the TMAU Foundation which she hoped would raise money towards researching the disorder. Camille’s focus, meanwhile, was split between raising awareness of the condition and assisting those children deemed “different” from their peers.
Although not completely cured, it seems Camille made some significant progress in the years after 2006. She gave an update on her condition in 2012, with a statement released to ABC, the makers of Primetime. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned since being diagnosed with TMAU,” she wrote, “it’s that, with accurate information and proper perspective, TMAU is manageable.” Thanks to her and Sandy, we are one step closer to solving a truly soul-crushing disorder.