Woman's surgery hopes after losing parts of her face to flesh-eating bug

A young woman who developed a rare flesh-eating disease and was forced to have large parts of her face removed may soon be given a second chance at life thanks to a top US surgeon.

Janine Violet Light (formerly Howard) was just two years old when she was diagnosed with leukaemia, a blood cancer.

Devastatingly, during treatment for the condition, she developed a rare life-threatening condition known as necrotising fasciitis and was subsequently left with rotting tissue and disfigurement post-surgery.

While Janine, who lives in North Belfast, Northern Ireland, has undergone multiple operations to address the disfigurement, she has faced cruel taunts for most of her adult life due to her appearance.

However, the 35-year-old is hoping that Dr Kongrit Chaiyasate, a plastic and reconstructive microsurgeon in Michigan, 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 Janine has received due to her appearance 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 Kongrit’s mentor, Dr Ian Jackson, who has since sadly passed away.

The highly-skilled surgeon, who cites Dr Jackson as one of the driving forces behind his career in reconstruction, has since offered to operate on the young woman free of charge.

Speaking to Jam Press Dr Kongrit 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 Kongrit 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 Kongrit 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 Kongrit 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. Kongrit will be operating on Janine for free, a GoFundMe page has been set up to cover the costs of her travel to the USA as well as hospital funds and accommodation.

Janine hopes to raise the $100,000 needed as soon as possible so that she can travel to the USA as soon as coronavirus restrictions ease up.

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. Kongrit.

‘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.’

Janine’s fundraising page can be found here.

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