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Doctors told a young woman how she's lucky to be alive after her body 'burned itself from the inside out', due to a rare condition that had been mistaken for simple midge bites.
Bethan Paley, 22, noticed she was covered in what she assumed were insect bites, but she then also fell ill with toothache, cold sores and ulcers.
Being advised to visit A&E, a week later Bethan was given a diagnosis of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare disorder of the skin and mucous membranes - which can cause skin to blister.
As Bethan was placed on a ventilator in the intensive care unit due to respiratory problems from attacks on her internal organs, her parents were told to prepare for the worst.
However, Bethan amazingly managed to surprise medics by pulling through, and now wants to share her story as she finally comes to terms with the life-threatening condition.
"It's been so hard coming to terms with what happened and the fact that I now have all of these medical issues," she said.
"When I started getting all of the symptoms, I read up about Stevens-Johnson syndrome because I was aware that it was a reaction to the depression medication I was taking.
"I knew it could be life threatening but I just had a few cold sores and blisters so I thought to go to the doctors to actually find out what it was.
"Everything progressed so quickly from that point - I ended up being unable to eat or drink and the rashes and blisters were spreading on my body.
"I was put into the ICU and onto a ventilator because I kept getting worse - my skin wasn't as badly affected as my insides were, it was more my lungs and intestines which made my case so life-threatening.
"The doctors told my parents they were really worried and that I probably wouldn't make it."
Bethan, from Skipton, North Yorkshire, explained how she noticed a patch of small red marks on her body in August 2018, believing they were bug bites.
After suffering from toothache - something she thought was due to her wisdom teeth - she visited her dentist, who gave her medication to relive the pain.
Then Bethan began to get cold sores and ulcers, and took herself to the doctors, knowing side effects of her depression medication could trigger Stevens-Johnson syndrome.
As her symptoms grew worse, she was rushed to A&E, where the rashes began to spread.
Bethan recalled: "I was freaking out at this point because I knew it could get worse and kill me.
"I was officially diagnosed a week after my symptoms started and was transferred to a bigger hospital to a burns unit - it was really scary.
"The rashes were like third degree burn blisters and my skin was falling off.
"I put on a ventilator and was panicking that I was going to die.
"My family were distraught - my mum said it was really difficult to see me like that and she wrote a diary during my time in ICU saying how worried she was that things progressed so fast."
After being on a ventilator for five weeks, doctors fitted a tracheostomy tube in Bethan's neck to wean her off the machine.
While doctors were stunned at how well she pulled through, it became clear that her body now had to pick up the pieces of what had already been damaged.
Bethan said: "An ICU nurse went on holiday and came back when I recovered, and said to my mum that she was amazed I was still here because they all thought I was one that might not go home in the end.
"Recovery was really hard at first - I'd say I'm still recovering now because I'll have some of the after-effects for the rest of my life.
"My hair and nails fell out because my body was essentially burning itself from the inside out. I hated it because I've always taken pride in my hair.
"Eventually I shaved my head so it could start growing back. I'm only now at a length [with which] I feel more comfortable."
The condition still affects Bethan's lungs and eyes. No longer able to produce tears, for instance, she has to use artificial drops every half hour.
But she is now feeling positive after accepting the long-term effects of the syndrome, with hopes to study performing arts at university in the near future.
Bethan added: "It's been very difficult but I'd say I'm in the best place now that I've been in the past two years.
"I now know I'm lucky to be alive and I have a different perspective on life.
"Even though it is so rare, I think people should be aware of the symptoms so that they can stop whatever's causing it straight away and get help."
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