Young woman mysteriously ages overnight

PHOTO: Young woman mysteriously ages overnight

Nguyen Thi Phuong from Vietnam is only 26, but you would be forgiven for mistaking her as an old woman.

After suffering an allergic reaction in 2008 and taking a variety of medications prescribed for it, Phuong's skin on her face, neck and hands rapidly wrinkled and became saggy, giving her the appearance of a 70-year-old granny.

It all began when the young lady from Giong Trom district of Ben Tre province ate some seafood.

It made her face break out into an itchy rash so bad, that she used to scratch her face even in sleep, Phuong told Tuoi Tre, a major Vietnamese daily newspaper where the news first broke.

To alleviate the symptoms, she ate some medication her husband, Nguyen Thanh Tuyen, 34, bought her.

The medications did not work. She then visited a local doctor, who prescribed her pills for dermatitis.

However, the pills made her face swell up and hives erupt on her skin. She stopped taking them after a week, and turned to some traditional Chinese medicine practitioners in town.

She was given some medication that reduced the swelling, but also made her put on weight. However, the medication was expensive, costing VND30,000 (S$1.88) a day, and did not do much to improve her condition.

Phuong soon began wearing a face mask whenever she went out. After her husband quit his job in 2009 to take care of her, they ran out of money and she stopped taking all medications.

She then decided it as a fate decreed by God and the couple stopped trying to cure her condition, Phuong told local news outlets.

A beautiful girl

Photos reveal that Phuong used to have a beautiful and youthful appearance.

Those acquainted with her say people who have not met Phuong for some time cannot recognise her now until they hear her voice.

Le Van Thiem, an acquaintance of Phuong and fellow resident of Giong Trom town, told local media outlets that he mistook her as some old lady visiting when she went back to her hometown for her grandmother's death anniversary.

Even her stomach skin has aged and become saggy, Phuong said. She has never given birth, but her stomach skin is loose and saggy as if she has had two or three kids.

However, her husband says he still is very much in love with her.

"When we got married, Phuong was a beautiful girl," he said. "Just understand that I still love my wife."

The couple now live in Bu Dop district in Binh Phuoc province, where he has taken up a job as a carpenter and her selling cashews.

Doctors baffled

Doctros baffled

Other than her skin from her stomach upwards, Phuong is in perfect health.

Doctor Mai The Trach, former chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City Endocrine Association, said that she only looks old but does not have any symptoms of age. She has a good memory and her internal organs are healthy.

Her hair and posture also resembles that of a young woman.

Doctors have speculated on the cause, with possible reasons including medicinal poisoning, allergy to certain medications and the overuse of medicines with corticoid. Corticoid is a steroid hormone that is administered to reduce swelling.

It has several side-effects, and doctors say the effects on her skin may have been brought about by the usage of corticoid over a long period of time and then stopping suddenly, local papers reported.

Others suspect she may have an endocrine or genetic disorder.

Hoang Van Minh, head of dermatology at the Ho Chi Minh (HCM) City University Medical Centre, has examined her and said he suspects Phuong has cutaneous mastocytosis - a disorder caused by too many mast cells, which shows itself through a number of symptoms including skin lesions and itching.

He told local papers that medicines can cure her condition and laser treatment can minimise the appearance of the wrinkles, although Phuong is likely to see only a 50 to 70 per cent improvement in her condition.

Touched by kindness

However, things are looking up for Phuong.

After her sad plight was published in the local news outlets last Sunday, many medical experts have stepped forward to offer their help.

Three hospitals in HCM City have offered her consultations with experts and a body soap company has offered to pay for Phuong's diagnosis and treatment, even if it requires overseas treatment, the reports said.

The company has announced that it will give Phuong's family VND50 million for the time being.

Phuong has expressed great thanks for the many generous offers of help.