With four balloon-like implants fitted inside her skin, Xiao Yan lives every day with her face covered at all times. Even if you wanted to empathize with her, it doesn't come easy as nobody can truly understand the pain she undergoes every day to get cured of her condition.
Xiao, 23, from Longjing Village in Guizhou Province in south-western China, is afflicted by a rare skin condition called congenital melanocytic nevus which affects one in every 500,000 people. In order to get treated for the same and prevent the onset of cancer, Xiao needs the bizarre treatment that allows new tissue growth which in turn will be used to be grafted onto her face, when the gigantic birthmark is removed.
For the unintended, congenital melanocytic nevus is a birthmark that covers more than two percent, or 20cm, of the patient's body and requires more than one incision to remove, according to dermatologist Dr Amanda Oakley.
Usually, it's the head, arms, and legs that are affected but Xiao's case is a rare occurrence. The treatment involves birthmark removal which is, in most cases, followed by scarring.
With the balloons stretching all four corners of her face, Xiao is learning how to live with the oddity before she finally gets her new face, free of the birthmark.
Medical experts at the Shanghai Ninth People's Hospital in East China were the ones responsible for giving her face the outlandish-looking implants when her facial mole began to cause her pain last March.
Doctors speculated that it could be indicative of cancer, hence recommended her to go for the first stage of the procedure i.e. the implant fitting inside her face.
The egg-shaped balloon structures are regularly injected with saline, to gently expand them which allows the skin to stretch too.
According to statistics, the percentile of cases that can become cancerous vary; with some estimates suggesting 5-10 percent of cases while others peg the percentage at a lower number i.e 1-2 percent only.
The hope of getting a new face
As a child, Xiao never felt the need to change anything about her appearance and as she stated, she was prepared to live with the massive mole on her face for the rest of her life.
"Despite the big black mole on my face, I enjoyed my childhood playing with my friends," Xiao said, as reported by DailyMail. "I was carefree," she added. "But as I grew older, the fact that I was 'different' became increasingly magnified," she explained ruefully.
Her 'different' appearance has made her a victim of bullying, with many branding her 'gourd doll' because the lumps on her face resemble the shape of gourd fruits.
But Xiao isn't letting the bullying affect her. "I used to feel sorry for myself," she admitted, "But I've grown up with the support of my family and now I'm much more positive," she explained.
Even her mother Yang Xiu'e was quoted as saying that she had to beg her villagers to stop making fun of her daughter, who became quite an unwilling celebrity in her village.
But living with the implants in her face wasn't just the only challenge for her. For her treatment, Xiao, who hails from a poor family, had to gather 100,000 yuan (£11,177/$15,611) for her treatment that began in October last year.
Following recommendations from doctors last year, Xiao's poor family managed the challenging task of raising for the first stage of her treatment, which she began in October last year.
Xiao's twin brother and the rest of her family are still continuing to raise funds for her follow-up surgeries and have managed to attain about 50,000 yuan (£5,588/$7806).
We hope Xiao recovers in time.
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