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Meet a Man Who Can’t Taste Food

You can almost smell the warm gingerbread and cinnamon in the Christmas air.  Your lips can’t wait to taste all of your favorite treats, from candy canes to succulent turkey.

But what if you couldn’t enjoy a simple, yet beautiful thing such as the smell of pine needles?

Loyola student Kevin Costopoulos, 20, looks like your ordinary college sophomore. He is lanky, with chestnut colored, flowing hair. He is pretty much your average young man, except for one significant quality that takes him extraordinarily unique; Kevin has no sense of taste or smell.

It may seem hard to believe, but according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), each year, more than 200,000 people visit a physician for chemosensory problems such as taste disorders.

It all started when Kevin was in fourth-grade. It was the Fourth of July in California, and for the Manhattan Beach native, this meant that his family was having their annual block party on his street.

Kevin, and a much older neighbor got in an argument over a girl they both had crushes on. All of a sudden, the fight escalated. Before Kevin knew what was happening, his neighbor had picked him up from under his arms and threw him back onto the hard concrete of his driveway. Although Kevin decided not to press charges, his head whiplashed against the pavement and he was knocked out cold. Kevin has not spoken to his neighbor since.

He was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with a concussion. However, the worst shock came three days later, when Kevin realized that he could not taste or smell a thing.

Costopoulos does not remember the last thing he tasted, but he does remember the first thing that he could not taste: eggs and bacon. Three days after the accident, his mother left his breakfast cooking on the stove. The bacon had burned as it cooked and his sisters came running into the kitchen when they smelled the smoke.

Kevin, completely unaware of the fact that the kitchen was almost on fire, just sat at the table as his sisters frantically tried to waft out the smoke. When the fumes cleared, Kevin ate his breakfast and to his disbelief realized that the food had no taste. He told his mother immediately, and she rushed him back to the doctors.

When asked about the diagnosis Kevin said, “It took a bunch of different tests, brain scans and X-rays to understand what was happening to me.”

The results showed that there had been significant damage to his olfactory nerves, which were responsible for smell and taste perceptions. “The doctors said that the nerves could possibly grow back and repair themselves,” said Kevin. “But they really have no idea if or when this will happen.”

Kellie Inveiss, a nurse at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, and specialist in oral conditions, said, “Trauma-induced injuries in which the sense of smell or taste is lost are due to a lesion to the olfactory nerve fibers. You know it’s directly related to the trauma, because there was no gradual loss of smell or taste.”

Inveiss went on to say that, “It is highly unlikely his senses will return. Sometimes, I see children whose sense of smell is lost due to dental problems, infections, or polyps in the nose. But, trauma related damage is different. If the nerves are going to heal, it will be a long and slow process.”

Kevin and his family still have hope that he will one day regain his senses. “When I wake up every morning and eat my bagel, I close my eyes and tell myself that I will be able to taste it,” said Kevin. But, so far, this dream has not come true for Kevin and his family.

Fortunately for Kevin there might actually be some hope. According to the NIH, taste and smell cells are the only sensory cells that are regularly replaced [by the body] throughout a person’s life span.

Kevin hopes to one day be able to smell and taste again. The one thing that he looks forward to tasting most is a thick juicy steak. You might think that Kevin would be a health nut with his condition, but this is not the case. Kevin’s diet is pretty much like any other college students’ diet.

“I choose my food mostly on the texture of it,” said Kevin when asked about his favorite foods. “I really enjoy variety in the foods I eat. I cannot stand the same textures over and over again.”

However, his is appetite is affected by his condition. Many people indulge in eating not because they are hungry, but because they crave the satisfying taste of food. Kevin on the other hand, eats purely to fill his stomach. “If I am not extremely hungry, I just wont eat. I don’t want to eat garbage food that I can’t taste if I’m not even hungry,” Kevin said.

Those who know Kevin feel that it is incredible that he has been able to live with this. Kevin’s roommate and close friend Jason Jones said, “To this day I still am stunned that he can’t smell or taste anything.” Jason went on to say that although he feels bad for Kevin, it doesn’t stop him or his friends from messing with Kevin’s condition. “It’s all in good fun,” said Jason. “But sometimes [my friends and I] will put pepper in his pizza or give him hot water instead of coffee.”

Although Kevin is a good sport when it comes to pranks, the reality of his condition is a feeling that Kevin was unable to describe.

To walk down the street without the ability to smell the roses may seem like a nightmare. But, to Kevin, it is every day life. “The worst part is not knowing if my senses will ever come back,” said Kevin.

After I interviewed Costopoulos, Kevin turned in the direction of a McDonalds and said, “You got me hungry for Micky-D’s, so I am going to enjoy the texture of a cheeseburger.”

Picture 1 of 5

Photos: Curtesy of Kevin Costopoulos. Kevin, eyes closed, sees if he can taste a cake made by his friends on his 16th birthday.

 

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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.