Wednesday, 13 August 2008

‘Elephant Legs’ Woman

A 23-year-old girl in Xuzhou, a city of east China's Jiangsu Province, has developed surprisingly thick legs since she was seven. Her right leg first rounded out for no particular reason and the other leg followed two years later. Now, her left leg is 0.7 meters round. A dozen Chinese urban hospitals have failed to figure out what happened.

HELPING HAND: Wang Cheng received donations from Buddhist group Fo Kuang Shan for travel expenses and will receive free surgery at a Taipei hospital.

A young Chinese woman with a rare condition that has caused her legs to deform and triple in size is dreaming of a normal life after coming to Taiwan for surgery.

Wang Cheng, 24, cannot work or even wear pants because of the painful elephantiasis that has dogged her since the age of six and left her with legs weighing 50kg.

“I cannot go out to work,” Wang said as she slowly raised herself into a sitting position in her bed at Taipei’s Wanfang Hospital. “Nor can I wear pants like normal people.”

Her suffering may come to an end after free surgery by a Taiwanese specialist, who will alleviate the swelling by cutting away some of the lymphatic tissue in her legs.

Senior physician Hsu Wen-hsien, who will lead the operation on Monday, said he has never seen such an extreme case in his more than 30 years of experience.

“In the past cases, none of the patients have had two legs swelling to this size,” Hsu said.

Hsu, who has carried out 40 similar operations, 37 successfully, believes he can reduce the size of Wang’s legs by 35 percent immediately and 50 percent after rehabilitation work.

“It’s very likely the disease started when her veins were obstructed, and blood flowed to the lymphatic vessels, thus leading to swelling in the legs,” he said.

Wang traveled from Jiangsu Province for the operation thanks to Buddhist group Fo Kuang Shan, which learned of her plight through a newspaper report.

Her condition had baffled Chinese doctors at major hospitals in Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing and Zhengzhou, who were unable to help Wang.

“They said checkups showed her body was in normal condition,” said Wang’s mother, Cheng Yuxia, who accompanied her to Taiwan.

For Wang, elephantiasis has been a slowly developing condition that has gradually taken over her life.

“First it was my left leg, and then my right leg also got the same problem two years later,” she said. “Time and again I have been suffering fevers and muscular pains.”

Fo Kuang Shan is paying all travel and non-medical expenses, while the 10-hour operation and related care — estimated at US$16,500 — is being provided free by the hospital.

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