A nurse has undergone a procedure similar to a Brazilian bum lift after her fat was taken from her abdomen and transferred to her face and hands to combat her poor circulation.
Amy Daniels, 51, hopes the procedure will help the symptoms caused by the chronic autoimmune disorder scleroderma.
Scleroderma causes a sufferer’s immune system to attack their blood vessels, organs and skin, leaving them with scarring and severe pain due to poor circulation.
Since being diagnosed in 2003, Mrs Daniels, of Wisconsin, has had stem cell transplants, which have done little to ease her suffering.
Desperate, Mrs Daniels underwent an autologous lipotransfer in December last year.
This involved her fat being enriched with her own stem cells, before being re-injected into her hands, feet and the skin surrounding her mouth.
Although it is unclear how the relatively new procedure works, it is thought that the stem cells have a regenerative affect and Mrs Daniels hopes it will heal her skin wounds, and therefore improve movement and circulation.
Amy Daniels underwent a procedure similar to a Brazilian bum lift after her fat was taken from her abdomen, and transferred to her face and hands to combat her poor circulation. Pictured the day after the treatment, Mrs Daniels hopes it will help her autoimmune disorder
Mrs Daniels hands were swollen, discoloured and had poor circulation due to the condition, called scleroderma. They are pictured before (right) and after (left) the fat transfer
Mrs Daniels, pictured with her husband Mark, 52, when they first met, first experienced symptoms of the condition in 2003 following the birth of her first child
Mrs Daniels – pictured before and after her fat transfer – said: ‘Scleroderma has given me a lot of lines, particularly around my mouth. It takes your looks from you, but I’m so past caring’
Mrs Daniels hopes her facial tissue can now be reconstructed and the scarring that comes with scleroderma will be reversed.
Mrs Daniels said: ‘I have a pretty high pain threshold, but the fat transfer, which is also known as fat grafting, hurt.
‘I look at all these reality stars and can’t imagine how much pain those chicks are in all the time just to look good, while I’m doing it to feel better.’
Mrs Daniels, who is mother to Martha, 19, and Lucy, 15, with her motorcycle designer husband Mark, 52, said she first experienced symptoms of scleroderma shortly after giving birth to her youngest daughter in 2003.
She initially assumed her hands had swollen because of water retention during breastfeeding.
But realised it was something more when they became so sensitive that even simple tasks, like switching on a light and grabbing a pen, would hurt immensely.
By the summer of 2004, her hands also started turning purple and she developed pitting – a type of scarring common in scleroderma patients – on her fingertips.
Consulting a doctor, she was told to keep an eye on her symptoms and speak to a rheumatologist – a medical professional who specialises in musculoskeletal conditions – if they persisted.
Mrs Daniels only started thinking she could have scleroderma after a chance comment from a neighbour.
Mrs Daniels recalls seeing a patient with scleroderma while working. She said: ‘My husband remembers me saying at the time that if there was any disease I didn’t want to get, it was scleroderma’. Pictured before her 2004 diagnosis in 2003
Mrs Daniels first saw symptoms after the birth of her first child, Martha, with Mr Daniels
HOW DOES AUTOLOGOUS LIPOTRANSFER WORK?
A patient having this procedure would have their own fat tissue collected and then enriched with their own stem cells, which would be injected back into certain areas.
The procedure has been used for reversing fibrosis – the thickening and scarring of connective tissue, usually as a result of injury – in various conditions, such as scars, radiodermatitis, burns and scleroderma.
Mrs Daniels said: ‘The hope is that it aids the healing of any wounds you have, and gives you a little more padding for your circulation. It can also help with skin stretching.’
Some reports have shown the efficacy of autologous liptransfers in patients with scleroderma to improve mouth opening and fibrosis reduction in the treated skin.
It could improve facial scleroderma both in aesthetic and functional aspects.
The stem cells can harnesssed for their versatility to develop into a range of tissues including cardia, bone, cartilage, muscle, nerve and skin.
They are thought to have a regenerative affect on the wounded skin and tissue caused by scleroderma in Amy Daniel’s case.
It would also have a filling effect, therefore improving appearance of skin, secondary to Mrs Daniel’s needs, she said.
She said: ‘One day, completely out of the blue in October 2004, a neighbour said, “Wow, you’re so tanned”.
‘As a nurse, I’d looked after one patient with scleroderma, who had hyperpigmented skin that looked like a super dark tan.
‘My husband remembers me saying at the time that if there was any disease I didn’t want to get, it was scleroderma.
‘I was terrified that I’d die and not see my kids grow up.’
Seeking an immediate referral to a rheumatologist, who she met with the following month, her diagnosis was confirmed.
Scleroderma is categorised into two main types – localised, which just affects the skin, and systemic, which Mrs Daniels has, and also impacts on the blood circulation and internal organs.
Mrs Daniels was also found to have Raynaud’s syndrome, which affects the blood vessels in the fingers, particularly when it is cold.
Many people with scleroderma also have Raynaud’s, according to the charity Scleroderma and Raynaud’s UK (SRUK).
They say that 2.5million people worldwide have scleroderma, and in the UK there are 19,000 people diagnosed.
‘I’ll never forget hearing the news… I just started sobbing,’ Mrs Daniels said.
‘I was warned that it was very severe, and was affecting my lungs as it was hardening the vessels inside the organ.
‘The doctor even said it might be an idea to get my affairs in order. It was awful.’
In some cases of the more severe type of scleroderma, called diffuse systemic sclerosis, there can be potentially serious complications involving the heart, lungs and kidneys.
When Mrs Daniels was diagnosed, she feared she would not see her children grow up
The condition can have potentially serious complications involving the heart, lungs and kidneys. Pictured with Martha and her youngest daughter, Lucy
Mrs Daniels has had to have stem cell transplant treatment in 2007, which involved aggressive chemotherapy. Pictured after her treatment on Mother’s Day
WHAT IS A BRAZILIAN BUTT LIFT?
A Brazilian Butt Lift uses fat transferred from other areas of the body, such as the love handles, hips or stomach, to provide patients with a fuller derriere.
Clinics report the procedure, which costs between £6,500 and £10,000, has seen more than a 50 per cent increase compared to five years ago.
The procedure’s nickname was coined in 1996 after Dr Leonard Grossman was filmed performing fat transfer surgery on a patient from Brazil.
The surgery takes anywhere from one to two hours to perform. The amount of downtime ranges from one to three weeks, plastic surgeons claim.
Composing herself after her initial shock, Mrs Daniels found a more specialist doctor who had experience treating scleroderma.
This resulted in her stem cell transplant treatment in April 2007 – which was then being trialed.
To prepare her for the procedure, Mrs Daniels endured aggressive chemotherapy to wipe her immune system, before she received the new stem cells.
She said: ‘I was in the first handful of patients to undergo a stem cell transplant for scleroderma.’
After the procedure, to ensure her immune system was not compromised, Mrs Daniels was more or less ‘housebound,’ until she grew stronger.
Feeling ‘fantastic’ for many years afterward, in 2012, Mrs Daniel’s run of good health came to a grinding halt, when she came out of remission.
The painful ulcers, commonly found on the fingers of scleroderma patients, returned.
At their most severe, Mrs Daniels said they could last for more than a year and be prone to infection.
As her feet were affected, Mr Daniels even made her special flip flops, as wearing normal shoes was too painful.
Then, desperate for some relief, her interest was piqued when she heard about fat grafting through a doctor friend.
The stem cell treatment worked, but Mrs Daniels went into remission in 2012
Mrs Daniels underwent an autologous lipotransfer in December 2018, where her fat was enriched with her own stem cells, before being reinjected into her hands, feet, and skin around the mouth. Pictured, having her stem cell collection
Three days after Mrs Daniels fat transfer. She said: ‘The hope is that it aids the healing of any wounds you have, and gives you a little more padding for your circulation’
Mrs Daniels has also had botox as a temporary treatment. Pictured with her daughters recently
Known as autologous lipotransfer, the procedure, which is also used as a reconstruction technique in breast cancer patients, sees fat harvested and enriched with the patient’s own stem cells, before being reinjected.
It is hoped this will mean facial tissue can be reconstructed and the thickening and scarring of connective tissue that comes with scleroderma will be reversed.
‘Scleroderma has given me a lot of lines, particularly around my mouth. It takes your looks from you, but I’m so past caring about that,’ Mrs Daniels said.
‘You almost go through a death of your old self and a rebirth of this new person.
‘The fat transfer treatment wasn’t about my looks, but it can also help with skin stretching which I did care about. The hope is that it aids the healing of any wounds you have, and gives you a little more padding for your circulation.’
As well as the fat graft, Mrs Daniels had Botox injected into the rest of her extremities as a temporary measure before getting fat transfers in those areas also in the future.
Now she appears to be doing well, but still feels as if she is playing a waiting game to see if the fat transfer has worked for her.
Scleroderma causes painful ulcers on the skin of scleroderma patients. It can also cause discolouring of the skin, which Mrs Daniels has experienced
Mrs Daniels is also waiting to start a course of physical therapy to her hand, to help improve her strength.
‘Scleroderma is an invisible illness, so when you look fine and normal, people take it that you are. As the years go on, they stop asking how you’re feeling because they don’t want to know,’ Mrs Daniels said.
‘Still, I try to focus on the positives and give my body kudos every day for going through what it has.
‘Very early on, I realised I couldn’t be staying in bed feeling sorry for myself. If I die early, I want my kids to see that I had this heinous disease and fought my butt off to give them as normal a life as possible.
‘In return, they give me strength to get up in the morning and I am very grateful for that.’
WHAT IS SCLERODERMA?
Scleroderma is an uncommon condition that results in hard, thickened areas of skin and sometimes problems with internal organs and blood vessels.
Scleroderma is caused by the immune system attacking the connective tissue under the skin and around internal organs and blood vessels. This causes scarring and thickening of the tissue in these areas.
There are several different types of scleroderma that can vary in severity. Some types are relatively mild and may eventually improve on their own, while others can lead to severe and life-threatening problems.
There’s no cure for scleroderma, but most people with the condition can lead a full, productive life. The symptoms of scleroderma can usually be controlled by a range of different treatments.
Normally, the body’s immune system fights off any germs that infect the body. It responds like this to anything in the body it doesn’t recognise, and settles down when the infection has been cleared.
It’s thought scleroderma occurs because part of the immune system has become overactive and out of control. This leads to cells in the connective tissue producing too much collagen, causing scarring and thickening (fibrosis) of the tissue.
It’s not clear why this happens. Certain genes are thought to be involved.
Types and symptoms
There are 2 main types of scleroderma:
- Localised scleroderma: This is the mildest form of the condition. It often affects children, but can occur at any age. This type just affects the skin, causing one or more hard patches to develop. Internal organs aren’t affected.
- Systemic sclerosis: In systemic sclerosis, internal organs can be affected as well as the skin on the hands, lower arms, feet, lower legs and face. This type mostly affects women and usually develops between 30 and 50 years of age. It too often starts as Raynaud’s, a circulation problem where fingers and toes turn white in the cold.
Other typical symptoms include thickening of the skin over the hands, feet and face, red spots on the skin, hard lumps under the skin, heartburn and problems swallowing.
In more serious cases, called diffuse systemic sclerosis, skin changes can affect the whole body other symptoms can include weight loss, fatigue, and joint pain and stiffness. Symptoms come on suddenly and get worse quickly over the first few years.