Elephantiasis Afflicted Woman Hoping for a Normal Life After Surgery

by VR Sreeraman on Jul 16 2008 12:40 PM

Wang Cheng is looking forward to running and wearing trousers for the first time in more than a decade after life-changing surgery in Taiwan to correct a rare and painful condition which caused her legs to treble in size.

An elated Wang, 24, said she couldn't wait to live a regular life, including wearing normal clothes and eventually attending college back home in China, things that most people take for granted.

"I feel so light," the young woman said, lifting her legs without any difficulty from her hospital bed in Taipei.

"If it were not for these things, I would like to run and jump now," she said with a grin, pointing to the bandages on her legs.

"I cannot wait to wear trousers and skirts."

Wang has been unable to work nor wear regular clothes because of the grotesque and painful elephantiasis which has dogged her since the age of six and left her with legs weighing 50 kilograms (110 pounds).

Wang's condition had forced her to stay at home with her father, paralysed from a stroke, and unemployed mother since graduating from high school in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu.

Wang travelled to Taiwan for the 10-hour operation thanks to Taiwanese Buddhist group Fo Kuang Shan, which learned of her plight through an AFP photo report last year.

A team of doctors, led by Hsu Wen-hsien, an expert in oncology and peripheral vascular surgery, performed the surgery at the Wanfang Hospital free of charge last month.

In an interview with AFP before the operation, Hsu said he had never seen such an extreme case of the condition in more than 30 years of medicine.

But the specialist was confident of success, and planned to alleviate the swelling in her legs through surgery.

"It's very likely the disease started when her veins were obstructed, and blood flowed to the lymphatic vessels, thus leading to swelling in the legs," he said.

The operation has meant Wang's thighs have reduced to 51 centimetres (20.4 inches) across, from 66 centimetres, while her calves are 34 centimetres, down from 69 centimetres, according to hospital data.

Wang's overall weight has also fallen from 82 kilograms to 62 kilograms.

"I felt at ease when the doctors announced they had completed the operation. I knew they could do it," said Wang's mother, Cheng Yuxia who travelled with her daughter to Taiwan.

"The surgery has proved to be a great success."

Wang's mother said over the years she had taken her daughter to doctors in the Chinese cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing and Zhengzhou, all of whom were baffled by her condition and unable to help.

The exact cause of the deformity is still unknown. Elephantiasis, or lymphatic filariasis, is often transmitted by mosquitoes, but doctors have ruled this out in Wang's case.

If post-surgery rehabilitation on her legs goes well, Wang is expected to fly home in early September when "a group of my high school classmates will hold a big party for me," she said.

Wang said she was looking forward to getting on with the rest of her life.

"I hope I can go to college because I believe only knowledge can help me find a decent job," she said.

Wang's high-profile surgery has encouraged dozens of elephantiasis patients to seek help from the hospital.

"That's something unexpected," Hsu said.

Before leaving for the mainland, Wang, who became a Buddhist two years ago, said she wanted to visit Fo Kuang Shan in southern Taiwan to thank them for their generosity.

The group is paying for all travel and non-medical expenses while the hospital is providing the operation and related care, estimated at 16,500 US dollars, free of charge.