A father-of-four man is forced to beg on the streets as he is unable to work because he has huge legs that weigh just over two stones each.
Muhammad Saleem, is known as the ‘elephant man’ in Karachi in Pakistan where he has been begging for the last 17 years.
The 53-year-old suffers from hereditary lymphedema which has caused both of his legs to balloon.
His feet have grown to a gigantic 23cm in circumference and his toes are 18cm.
Because of the enormous weight and size of his legs, Muhammad is almost completely immobile.
He cannot stand for more than a couple of minutes and his wife Zainab Bibi has to help him walk and climb the stairs of their one-room rented house.
With no work or money for treatment, he is forced to depend on the the help of others to make ends meet.
Muhammad Saleem is known as the ‘elephant man’ in Karachi in Pakistan
He suffers from hereditary lymphedema which has caused both his legs to balloon
The 53-year-old lost his job and he has been begging on the streets for the last 17 years
Muhammad, from Sikandar Goth, said: ‘My legs are so heavy I gasp for breath while trying to move them.
‘I cannot stand for more than two minutes at one place. Walking is nothing short of a task for me either. I drag my feet and walk like a baby and have to wait to rest after every 5-10 minutes of walk.
‘It has been more than 20 years that I have walked freely. There is nothing I can do on my own. I have not worn shoes in ages.’
Told amputation was needed
Muhammad has had the condition since birth and it was passed onto him by his mother.
But it was only after he attained puberty that his health started deteriorating.
He said: ‘My legs were always bigger than usual. My other eight siblings had normal legs. My mother also had big legs but not as big as mine.
‘Despite the slight difficulties I could walk, run and play easily with other children. I had a very normal childhood.
‘However, by the time I turned 15, my legs started swelling abnormally. Within a few months they became so huge that I could not even lift them on my own.’
Muhammad’s father Maher Khan consulted doctors but was shocked when medics told him the only way to save his teenage son’s life was to amputate his legs.
Maher, however, refused to let doctors cut off his son’s legs, and instead brought him home and started giving him local medicines.
Muhammad said: ‘I was running, playing and living a normal life and all of a sudden I was bed-ridden for a week. My legs were so big I was scared of them.
‘I was at a hospital waiting for the test results hoping for a miracle.
‘But doctors told my father there is no cure available.
‘They said the only way to stop infection from spreading is by amputating my legs. But my father refused to cut my legs.’
Muhammad says he has no regrets over his father’s decision as he still has legs and can walk even though with much difficulty.
He said: ‘I am thankful to him and Allah that he took the right decision. Although my legs cause me problems and pain but I still have legs to walk on my own.’
Without advanced treatment, Muhammad’s legs started growing bigger and bigger, restricting his movements. To have a normal life, his father gave him work at his milk shop.
Without treatment, Muhammad’s legs started growing bigger and bigger, restricting his movements
He inherited the condition from his mother but Muhammad is more severely affected
But after his father’s death, Muhammad closed the shop because of the high monthly rent. He came to Karachi with a friend to work at a textile factory.
For few months, he managed to work but the pressure had stared showing on his legs and they gave up strength.
Doctors advised that he be hospitalised for three months. When he was discharged Muhammad discovered he had lost his job and has not found another opportunity since.
His wife Zainab Bibi’s has to help him walk and climb the stairs of their one-room rented house
Muhammad hopes the government will help him so he can walk freely like before
Muhammad said: ‘I got married in these three months. When I returned I was told that I can no longer work there. I was desperately looking for an opportunity but no one was ready to give me work.
‘I begged everyone requesting every person to let me work and not think that my legs was an impediment in my skills, but none agreed.
‘Tired and dejected, I started begging on the roads to feed my family.’
‘I had never wanted to beg’
For nearly two decades Muhammad has been begging in Karachi.
On the days when he is lucky, he gets anywhere between 300-400 rupees in alms. He uses the money to buy medicines from a local faith healer in Rahim Yar Khan.
He says: ‘I have no money to see specialists. I cannot afford the expensive treatment and fees so I take medicines.
‘It is not easy to live with these legs. They hurt a lot particularly in winters thankfully in Karachi it is no that cold.’
Despite all the struggles, Muhammad still has hopes alive of walking freely like before. He hopes the government will come forward and help him with the treatment so he can lead a normal life.
He said: ‘I had never wanted to beg. I have always wanted to live life with dignity but God had other plans. I have still not lose hope.
‘I miss the days I used to walk like any other boy in my village. I still hope that one day I will walk again.’