MARYLAND - Instead of hair follicles, Ms Shanyna Isom has fingernails growing out of her skin.
The woman has an unidentified illness which has baffled doctors and left her struggling to walk and perform daily chores.
Three years ago, Ms Isom suffered an allergic reaction which caused her illness, reported the Daily Mail.
The 28-year-old former University of Memphis law student has seen every possible specialist, including a doctor in the Netherlands, but still has no idea what her affliction is.
Ms Isom was in her first year at university, where she was studying criminal justice, when the mystery illness first flared up in September 2009, according to WLBT in Memphis, which first reported the story.
She had been prescribed steroids after suffering an asthma attack, and within hours, she was "itching" all over her body.
Her legs then turned black.
Doctors treated her for virtually every condition - from eczema to Staphylococcal infection - without success.
The disease has affected not only MsIsom's skin, but also her bones and vision. Ms Isom cannot walk without a cane, and has to be helped out of bed daily.
Doctors at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, where Ms Isom has been undergoing treatment since last year, realised that the scabs were actually human nails.
They told her family that she is the only person in the world with this condition, reported ABC News.
Her mother, Ms Kathy Gary, said: "Black scabs were coming out of her skin. The nails would grow so long and come out and regrow themselves. They are hard to touch."
Ms Isom produces 12 times the normal number of skin cells per hair follicle, suffocating her skin. "Where hair grows, nails are growing," MsIsom told WAFB news.
Doctors think her skin isn't getting enough oxygen. She also lacks sufficient amounts of vitamins A, B, C, D and K.
While her condition has not been diagnosed, her symptoms have been brought under control. She is hoping that the results of genetic tests may offer clues to her illness.
"Her legs aren't covered in black scabs," said Ms Gary. "They are looking better, and her face just looks like she has a real bad sunburn."
But Ms Isom, who is on 25 types of medication, has US$500,000 (S$622,000) in unpaid medical bills.
Her state insurance doesn't cover medical care in Maryland, and Ms Gary lost her job as a medical receptionist because she looks after her daughter at home.
Once a month, they travel to Baltimore from Memphis to monitor her treatment.
She has put all of her energy into creating the S.A.I. Foundation (named for her initials) to help others with mystery illnesses.
The Bank of America has agreed to take donations at any of their branch offices.
Friends have organised fundraisers, and her high school has dedicated a football game to her charity. Ms Isom said she had slipped into a depression, but now feels uplifted by the support of family and friends.
She told ABCNews.com: "I know it's a blessing that I can reach out and touch people's hearts."
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