A woman has told how she was bullied and made to feel like a “freak show” after losing large parts of her face to a rare flesh-eating bug.
Janine Violet Light developed the life-threatening condition, necrotising fasciitis, while she was being treated for leukaemia, a blood cancer that was detected when she was only two-years-old.
She was subsequently left with rotting tissue and disfigurement post-surgery, and faced cruel taunts due to her appearance.
Now 35, Janine, who lives in North Belfast, has undergone multiple operations and is hoping a US surgeon may be able to reverse some of the effects of her facial scarring through reconstructive surgery.
She told Jam Press: “This surgery will make a big difference to my life, changing how I look and giving me a lot more self-confidence; helping me feel more like me.
“It’s hard for me when I have to go out to the shop or just walk around with my hubby, friends and family due to the verbal abuse I receive, including name-calling from young people.”
The years of bullying have left her feeling “worthless” and “like I don’t belong here, as if I am some sort of freak show for everyone to make fun of”.
Janine was originally seen and operated on by Dr Ian Jackson, who has since passed away. He mentored Dr Kongrit Chaiyasate, who has offered to operate on Janine free of charge.
Dr Chaiyasate, based near Detroit, Michigan, said: “I have a unique skill-set that I feel should be shared for those in need regardless of their circumstance.
“The fact that she is still experiencing bullying and isolation for her appearance really affects me, especially as a parent.
“One of the most rewarding parts of my job is being able to give back what has been taken from somebody.”
Dr Chaiyasate works predominantly with breast reconstruction patients, paediatric patients with craniofacial differences, and large trauma or cancer reconstructions.
He believes that Janine has outgrown the reconstruction that was done to her two decades ago and now hopes to establish facial harmony and facial movement in her.
Dr Chaiyasate added: “We would like to restore her smile and her blinking mechanisms by connecting the nerve graft from the normal side to an affected side.
“We then will put muscle on the nerve graft so that she can smile and blink.
“We also want to work on her previous reconstruction to match the other side.
“I am hoping to restore not only function but some aesthetic balance as well.
“If she can eat and drink as normal and walk down the street without having to hide her face I will have done my job.”
Dr Chaiyasate estimates the entire surgery will take the best part of a day to complete and will be tedious and intricate.
He added: “We are working with minuscule blood vessels and nerves but I have full confidence in the ability of myself and my team.
“The risks are similar to risks associated with any long surgery and bleeding, infection, or failure of reconstruction is the most concerning.”
But while Dr Chaiyasate will be operating on Janine for free, a GoFundMe page has been set up to cover the costs of her travel to the US as well as hospital funds and accommodation.
Janine hopes to raise the $100,000 (£76,500) needed as soon as possible so that she can travel to the US as soon as coronavirus travel restrictions are relaxed.
She said: “I aim to have the surgery done as soon as the funds needed are there and as soon as I am allowed to travel.
“I appreciate everything anyone does to help to get me to the USA to see Dr Chaiyasate.
“If I was able to get over to the USA and have my surgeries, it would really mean an awful lot to me, it would be a dream come true to be able to feel like I actually belong here, and would enable me to walk past the bullies without them calling me names and making me feel worthless.”