A Georgia woman has suffered a serious skin condition that left her bedridden for months and unable to feed herself.
Natalie Merchant Wright suffers from a condition known as topical steroid withdrawal (TSW) which causes a “deep bone” itch that can only be temporarily relieved by harsh scratching, leaving her skin oozing, bloody and raw.
It started when she was just a baby and began to suffer from eczema which led to her doctor prescribing a topical steroid cream.
But over time her body got used to the steroid and it stopped working for her and actually backfired leaving her with symptoms causing such immense pain that showering and even going to the bathroom was an excruciating burden.
Although she stopped using the topical steroid cream in August 2017, her painful rashes from withdrawal have continued, leaving her feeling like a ‘leper’ when she goes out in public.
Natalie had been using a topical steroid cream to treat her eczema since she was just a baby. TSW can appear after a person who has been using the cream for a long time suddenly stops using it, sending the body into a state of withdrawal
TSW has inflicted extreme pain on Ms Wright, who often refuses to leave the house for fear of drawing attention to her appearance.
JThe National Eczema Association (NEA) said the number of people affected by TSW is difficult to determine.
She said: “I work with the public in retail. They mean well but ask things like “Oh my God, what’s with your skin?” Why do you look like that? What happened, were you burned or did you have an accident?”
“You feel horrible, sick, like a reject and a leper half the time and people treat you like that whether they like it or not.”
She started suffering from mild eczema when she was just two months old and was prescribed topical steroids to reduce the inflammation caused by the skin condition.
The 20-year-old bride said the lotion triggered a series of flare-ups that were mistaken for eczema, which she tried everything to cure – including ‘hardcore’ bone broth fasts and not eat only meat for six months.
But in August 2017, the head of the retail team found out she was suffering from topical steroid withdrawal, so she hasn’t touched the lotion since.
Ms Wright said she had endured ‘literal hell’ due to the condition which causes severe scratching and leaves the skin on her body red, raw and oozing.
She also struggles with simple tasks like opening doors and showering, as the feeling of any water touching her body is like putting lemon juice in a cut.
‘The kind where you can’t scratch enough and after you stop it burns, so you want to scratch more. It’s such a Catch-22”, she said.
“I remember before school I would walk in there and I couldn’t help but scream and cry because it was so painful… There are times when I would lay in my bed for hours praying and get up and give up and go and lie on my bathroom floor and cry.
In December, Natalie was forced to take sick leave due to the severity of her condition, even wetting the bed a few times for lack of strength to go to the bathroom.
She added: ‘It wasn’t uncommon to wake up to bloody sheets and my own flakes of dead skin – it was like waking up to crumbs in the bed.
“There have been times in the last four months where it’s been so bad I’ve had to be spoon-fed, which is really embarrassing – you feel so helpless.”
TSW affects the nerves, which makes Ms. Wright hypersensitive to temperatures and textures. She said she was always too cold or too hot.
Natalie claims she was bombarded with hundreds of questions every day asking “what happened?” and mistaking her for a burn victim.
“These super insensitive questions, with good intentions most of the time, are really hurtful and sometimes after 800 of these comments a day, 801 is enough to crack you up and I would break down crying.”
Natalie said her symptoms weren’t as severe when she was younger, but she had problem areas, particularly the creases in her ears and elbows.
Due to her skin issues, Natalie said she struggled growing up as she wanted to feel as “pretty” as her peers and at school often struggled with typing and holding pencils.
Over the years, there were times when she didn’t want to leave the house, but was forced to “smile and endure” because she needed to go to school and work.
Natalie’s most recent flare-up, which began in December, was the longest and most severe to date, forcing her to stop working.
She said: “I have been in bed since December. I used to leave the house about once every fortnight to get my nails done, I get super thick acrylic as it keeps me from doing so much damage when scratching.
Natalie’s condition is itchy that cannot be relieved and leaves her raw, bloody and oozing with open sores
Ms Wright, a swing dancer, said she had tried ‘anything and everything’ to treat her skin, including going to a range of health experts, trying out various creams, medications and supplements.
She also changed her diet by going dairy-free and gluten-free for five years, in an effort to eliminate any food allergies.
After feeling “helpless” for years, she discovered Cold Atmospheric Plasma (CAP) therapy, a treatment which is only available in the UK, Singapore and Thailand. He provided Natalie with light at the end of the tunnel.
Natalie and husband Matthew Wright, 25, married on April 3 before flying to Thailand four days later for treatment and after two sessions she is already noticing a big difference.
She has now set up a GoFundMe to raise $30,000 to help cover the cost of treatment as well as their flights, visas and living expenses while there. She has so far raised nearly $21,500.
She said on her GoFundMe page: “I have had this condition for over 20 years… which is long enough to drive me crazy enough to travel to Thailand for treatment. I’m at the point of desperation where no step is too far. I want my life back.
She said the results of the treatment, specially designed for TSW, will be permanent with little to no side effects. Although she may still have minor skin issues, which will look more like eczema, they will be much more manageable.
She currently has it once a week and how long will depend on how her skin reacts.
Natalie said: “The treatment has been a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve already noticed quite a difference, it’s very exciting.
“Between each treatment, I see improvements – the redness goes down and the flaking increases, which means your body is healing and reproducing skin cells.
The treatment significantly improved his sleep, allowing him to sleep almost six hours a night.
“I think I’m starting to look like a new woman, I can’t wait.”
She and her husband plan to live there for a year, or at least as long as it takes for Natalie’s condition to improve.