Can-Do-Ability: Answers and Solutions from my personal experiences of living with a disability

The Woman With The Giant Legs

22 Mar 2012Almost everyone on the planet would have to have heard about the Elephant Man, if you haven’t; let me bring you up to speed.

Joseph Merrick was born in 1862 perfectly healthy, his two siblings both died from illnesses during their early childhood. Joseph showed no abnormality during his first few years, it wasn’t until he was three that he began to develop physical signs of changes in his facial features. This was to be the beginning of what is now the infamously known ‘Elephant Man’. He was named this due to the changes in his skin, which became lumpy and rough, and resembled that of an elephants.

Joseph also grew large bony masses under his skin on his forehead, and his hands and feet began to grow at different rates, with one of his hand becoming quite a lot larger than the other.

After his mum passed away, and his father rejected him, Joseph left school, and went to live in a home for disabled people, in England.

He found it very difficult to hold down a job, after several attempts, but due to his worsening facial deformities restricting his ability to speak clearly, and his looks frightening people away, it became more and more challenging.

He eventually joined an exhibition that toured around and showed him off, where he was known as ‘half man, half elephant’ or ‘The Elephant Man’, the exhibition allowed the public to gawk at him out in the open, instead of behind his back. The exhibition, which travelled around England, became quite successful, and Joseph saved some money, in the hopes that he could one day buy his own house.

He was hospitalized numerous times, due to various health complications, related to his condition. Because of the mass on his head, he was forced to sleep in an upright position, due to the weight of it, and the fear that his neck would break during the night.

He was found dead in his bed at the age of 27, the cause of death was believed to have been asphyxiation, but others believed that he died from the dislocation of his neck.

At the time, in the 1800’s, Joseph’s condition was thought to be neurofibromatosis, but it has come out in more modern times that it may have been a different condition, called Proteus syndrome.

This condition has been made more common in recent years, since the documentation of an English woman, Mandy Sellars, who has a very similar type of condition to Proteus syndrome. Mandy has appeared in many print and film interviews and documentaries, because of her giant legs. She has even been dubbed ‘the giant leg woman’ around the world.

At 36, Mandy’s legs had grown so large, and weren’t slowing down, that infections and other complications were beginning to arise. The only option was to have one of her legs amputated. The doctor’s told her, it was her life, or her leg, and she chose to have the larger of her two legs, which weighed five stone, amputated.

She was still able to walk on crutches, before the amputation, but found it increasingly difficult, due to the weight and size of her legs, and occasionally had to use a motorized wheelchair, to get around for longer distances.

So, although losing one of her legs was a drastic decision to make, she could see that the benefits would outweigh the negatives.

Since Mandy had her surgery in early 2010, her leg continued to grow, and was up to three stone by November last year. It had also grown to a circumference of one meter. This poses more problems for Mandy, and without a cure, there is not much more doctors can do, so the search for a cure is more important now, than ever.

If you would like to learn more about Mandy, or about Proteus syndrome, which she supports, you can visit her website by clicking on this link: http://www.whatsonningbo.com/news-5600-uk-giant-leg-woman-mandy-sellars-has-growing-leg-after-amputation.html

Despite her physical differences and difficulty that her condition has caused her, Mandy continues to maintain a positive attitude to life, and feels that her disability has opened more doors for her than if she had regular sized legs.

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