NEWSLIONS IMPACT: Teenager branded ‘human snake’ gets a new skin after life-changing treatment in Spain

Pictures by Newslions

The Indian teenager cruelly named “human snake girl” by her neighbors has got a new skin on her face and is fast loosing patchy, cracked skin all over her body.

Shalini Yadav cannot stop preening herself in the mirror, she cannot stop feeling her new skin. “It feels great. I haven’t got a new skin, I have just got a new life,” says the 18-year-old, as the last patches of dark skin came off her right cheek and nose bridge.

“I cannot wait to go back home and show my new face to the people there. Now, I want all those people to come and stare at me. Now, I am confident enough stare back at those who stared at me and made hurtful comments,” said Shalini, as she packed her bags for her journey back to India.

Shalini, her father and journalist Sanjay Pandey whose India-based news agency Newslions was instrumental in the treatment of the girl, camped in Spain since September 10 and they returned to India on September 27.

A team of 19 specialists doctors from the International Medical Academy in Malaga worked on a treatment plan that brought about the remarkable change in the Indian girl’s appearance, confidence and life.

Dermatologist Enrique Herrera says: “When I saw her what surprised me was her short height, body weight and bone deformity. As far as her skin conditioned is concerned, I already knew what she was suffering from by seeing her pictures. I was confident that I could take proper care and do necessary treatment for her skin disease diagnosed as lamellar ichthyosis even before she arrived here. I am using ‘acitretin’ medication to treat Shalini. As you can see, we had had a very response in just 10 days of medication. I expect in the next two months, she would get a normal skin. We are expecting 80-85% recovery in her case. It is very important for them to continue using the medication properly. If there is some inconsistency in that the problem might occur again.”

She will have to continue this treatment over the course of her entire life.

Shalni underwent treatment at Hospital Banus in Marbella for two weeks. Dr Carlos Da Sola, the head of the hospital, said: “I have been taking care of Shalini for the past two weeks in order to control her nutrition and diet. I have been working closely with the other members of the the team, particularly with Dr Herrera. There were two major problems with her. Her skin and bones. We had diagnosed her to be suffering from lamellar ichthyosis just by seeing the pictures. But what came as a surprise to us was the deformity of her bones and low weight. For the skin problem, Dr Herrera diagnosed her with lamellar ichthyosis just by seeing her her pictures. The other problem that she had included low nutrition, the deformity of bones, stunted growth and vitamin deficiency. We are yet to get some reports on the tests that has been conducted on her. Once the report comes, we shall be able to understand the reason behind her stunted growth and bone deformity.”

For the 17 past years, young Shalini has shed her skin everyday that prevented her from living a regular life in Chhatarpur, a town in the north of Madhya Pradesh in India. In her home town, she was cruelly branded her ”the human snake”.

India-based news agency Newslions broke her story to international media in January this year. The story was eventually picked up by a leading Spanish newspaper after reading about her plight people from Spain extended a helping hand for her treatment.

Sanjay Pandey, director of Newslions who has been accompanying the family to oversee the entire process of treatment in Spain, says:   “After we highlighted Shalini’s story to global media in February, we got in touch with a few doctors and hospitals but none of them showed any interest in the case. They outrightly told us that there is no cure of this disease even without seeing the patient. We had almost given up on this when we got an email from Spain that some generous people who had read her story in newspapers were keen to help with Shalini’s treatment. I did’t take it seriously in the first instance but I was sure when they approached us the second time with much details about how they want to help.”

But it took Shalni and her father to get the necessary documents to travel to Spain. And finally, on September 9, they flew to Madrid. Shalini and her father were surprised to see the warmth of people in general and doctors in particular. “Back in India, nobody would touch my daughter, here people embraced her whole-heartedly. It was really overwhelming to see how much love and compassion Spanish people had for a poor Indian girl with no means. People were hugging her, kissing her and showing her with gifts,” said her father Raj Bahdur Yadav.

Shalini echoed her father’s sentiments. “In India, nobody would come near me as they thought I was suffering from some contagious disease. Forget about common people, even the doctors would not come near me. They would see me from a distance. But when Dr Da Sola carried me in his arms to the ambulance, I was touched by his gestures and wondered why don’t we have doctors like him in India,” said Shalini as her eyes welled up.

The efforts made for young Shalini is an evidence of the power of media, particularly social media and how it can connect the right people across the world to make things happen. If Indian journalist Sanjay Pandey brought her story to attention of the international press, journalist Paco Rego played an important part in mobilizing support and reaching out to the right people in Spain to organize funds her treatment.

“Today, I am glad to see that a dream that we saw together has come true. ” journalist Paco Rego with fellow journalist Pandey sitting by his side.

“I felt a need, a duty to help a young girl whose situation was getting worse by the day. This is what journalism is for,” said Rego, choking up.

For months, Rego went to great lengths until he finally succeeded in getting in contact with the International Medical Academy of Marbella. The association, which was founded this year, brings together some of the best doctors on the Costa del Sol in order to help the investigation about the prevention and treatment of illnesses, contributing to the development of the city’s health sector.

When she arrived in Málaga on September 10, and after being previously diagnosed through photos, Enrique Herrera, head dermatologist in the Malaga Hospital Clínico and one of the 19 doctors who has volunteered to treat her, gave a definitive diagnosis: “Shalini has lamellar ichthyosis, a non-contagious illness which doesn’t yet have a cure as it is such a rare affliction. It is a disruption of the metabolic process of keratinisation which is acquired at birth”.

The family’s gratitude towards the doctors is beyond words. “We always lived amid fear that she might die any moment like our eldest daughter who also suffered from the same disease and died within a month of her birth.

Now in Marbella, Shalini underwent various medical tests to discover precisely the gravity of her illness and to find the optimum treatment for her recuperation. Pharmaceutical company, Farmacéutica Cantabria, based in Santander, has charitably offered to cover the costs of her medication for at least one year, with an eye to doing so for life.

The medical team insisted on the young girl staying in the Malaga Hospital Clínico for 15 to 20 days and supervise her progress. “We monitored her over the past fortnight. She started responding to the medicine from the second day onwards and see in this short span of time, all the patches on her face are gone and dark patches of skin are coming off gradually all over her body. She has just not a got a new skin, but it is a new incarnation for her,” says Dr AM Wilson, one of the doctors tending to her at Hospital Banus in Marbella.

According to medical experts, the cost of entire treatment process would have come to something around Rs 4,000,000 (GBP 45,000) if everybody involved in the process changed their professional fee.

The team of doctors that worked on Shalini’s case did it voluntarily.

The Spanish entrepreneur Juan Francisco Martinez, Mercadona’s main meat supplier, who covered most of the cost of the treatment, is going to give her a life pension to make her life easier. “Shalini is now a member of our family. Everybody in our family loves her so much. She now has two families one in Spain and one in India. She has two fathers now — one her biological father — and other one is my husband Juan. We are going to keep in touch with her and send her a monthly stipend that would ensure that she gets proper education and has better quality of life,” said Maribel Martínez Esteso, the wife of the entrepreneur pausing to plant a good bye kiss on her face.

Shalini(centre) posing for a picture with the family of Spanish entrepreneur Juan Francisco Martinez (left) and Newslions founder Sanjay Pandey in Marbella, Spain.

“Shalini, you must have realized by now that dreams do come true. Carry on dreaming. You deserve it, my love,” she said.

Shalini’s father Raj Bahadur Yadav couldn’t thank the doctors and donors more. “What you have done for my daughter cannot be explained in words. The love, care and compassion shown by people in Spain and India has reassured my faith in humanity,” said Yadav as he set out for India.

Shalini is still busy preening and caressing her new face. Pandey, who is also returning home with the father-daughter duo, looks at her with fatherly love — a smile of satisfaction on his face.

Commenting on how he felt about the transformation of Shalni, Pandey said: “I had tears in my eyes when I noticed that the medication has started to show its result. Every time, a chunk of dark patch came off her face, I was reassured that all the hardship we took over the past seven months was worth it. I am happy that through our journalistic intervention, we are able to bring about change in people’s life one after another.”

Back in India, Shalini’s mother Devkanwar cannot wait to see her daughter. “Earlier, Shalini didn’t not want to bother anyone anymore. she wished death upon herself. But now when she talks to me on the phone from Spain is full of life. She keeps telling me, man! see my face. See, how beautiful I look. The transformation that she has undergone in the past 15 days is beyond any one’s imagination. We didn’t expect such miraculous change in such a short span of time. I would like to thank everybody who has helped with the treatment. You have just given a new life to my daughter — and a face with which she can now face the world,” Devkanwar told Newslions over the phone from India.

Apart from a crowdfunding campaign in India, a 20-year-old student also ran campaign for her in London.

Syeda Begum, a student from London who also raised funds for Shalini’s treatment and flew down to Spain to her, said: “It is amazing to see Shalini in real life. The treatment has been so amazing. You can see the change in her skin already.”

It has been a week since Shalini returned to India and her recovery has stunned everybody at her hometown.  “I was thrown out of school because of my appearance. Now that have got a new skin and appearance, nobody can stop me from going to school. I want to study well and become a doctor. I want to help people like me. I want to do what the doctors in Spain have done for me,” she sums up.