A disease does more than merely damage your body. It can also affect your mind, shifting your sense of self.
All of your defining personal characteristics slide away, surmounted by your sickness. And as was the case for one 27-year-old Paraguayan, it only becomes more difficult when your illness also attacks your appearance.
The genetic disorder causes benign tumors to sprout up all over a subject’s body. There are several different types of neurofibromatosis, and some can lead to further developmental difficulties or chronic pain.
In Galvan’s case, he had to struggle with an appearance that looked like something out of a horror movie when pox-like pustules covered his arms and torso.
But the most shocking aspect of his disease is the extra skin that sprouted on the left side of his body. Hanging drapes of excess tissue droop from his shoulder and slump down his stomach and chest.
“I was living with fear and with a complex and was just full of fear,” Galvan said. “It was very difficult.”
He also explained to KABC that the ostracism of others plagued him. He said he experienced “a lot of harassment, a lot of discrimination, and a lot of bullying.”
He underwent multiple surgeries in his native Paraguay, but none of them did much good. That all changed when he met UCI Health trauma surgeon Dr. Cris Barrios.
Barrios had visited Paraguay with plastic surgeon Dr. Mark Kobayashi to do medical relief work. Their efforts were on behalf of IMAHelps, a nonprofit “which provides medical, dental, surgical and prosthetic care to people who suffer from” extreme poverty.
In addition to providing various medical procedures to the South American needy, it recruits medical professionals to perform them. That was why Barrios and Kobayashi were in the neighborhood, so to speak.
As soon as they met Galvan, they realized his case was too serious to deal with in-country. So they arranged to have him flown to the United States.
After arriving in America, Galvan underwent a procedure that lasted for eight hours. The transformation was miraculous.
“We ended up removing about six pounds worth of extra tissue, which was really his primary complaint, just the weight and the inability to do things,” Barrios said. “Neurofibromatosis, and he had some excessive skin growths.”
Galvan was thrilled with his new appearance. Even though he will need to have a second procedure in Paraguay, he believes the work he has already had done will revolutionize his life.
“I feel like a brand-new person,” he said. “I have more strength to keep going.”
“When I got closer to God, He is the one that helped me get over all this and to heal,” he said. “I want to continue what I was doing in helping other people, and to make sure that other people are also going to get closer to God with me.”
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