A 15-year-old girl in China who looked decades older due to a rare condition has been given a new appearance by life-changing plastic surgery after Good Samaritans teamed up to cover her medical bills.
The teenager, known by a pseudonym Xiao Feng, was bullied at school for her looks and has felt insecure and inferior to others all her life because of her wrinkly skin.
She met the public for the first time today after undergoing the procedure, which took place late last month and lasted seven and a half hours, according to medics.
Surgeons from Shenyang Sunline Plastic Surgery Hospital claimed that Xiao Feng had progeria, a rare genetic condition that occurs in an estimated one in eight million live births and causes a person to age prematurely.
In Xiao Feng’s case, the condition only affected her skin, not her organs, a spokesperson from the hospital told MailOnline.
Xiao Feng’s mother is said to have the same condition.
The teenage girl was able to receive medical treatment after kind strangers raised more than £20,000 to cover her medical bills.
The surgical operation took place on December 29 and was attended by 10 surgeons, three anaesthetists and five nurses, according to the hospital.
Dr. Shi Lingzhi, head of the hospital, said that surgeons removed excessive skin measuring a total of seven centimetre (2.7 inches) thick from Xiao Feng.
Medics also reshaped the teenager’s nose, eyebrows and mouth.
Dr Shi told MailOnline that her hospital eventually cancelled all of Xiao Feng’s medical bills, which totalled 500,000 yuan (£56,000), because the management wanted her to use the funds raised by the public on her recovery and future studies.
With a new appearance, Xiao Feng was presented to the public by the hospital at a press conference in Shenyang, the provincial capital of Liaoning.
Dr Shi said that the medic had not allowed Xiao Feng to look into the mirror since the operation, and the girl could not contain her tears after seeing her new self for the first time at the event.
The teenager was also seen hugging her parents and crying on stage.
‘Today is the happiest day for my daughter,’ Xiao Feng’s father, Wang Hongde, said.
Mr Wang, a farmer, added: ‘The night after Xiao Feng’s surgery was the night when I slept the soundest because I believed that doctors could cure my daughter’s condition and help her live and study happily in the future.’
Xiao Feng was born to a less-fortunate family in Heishan county of Jinzhou city in north-eastern China’s Liaoning Province.
Before the surgery, she had never dared to take one single selfie and did not have any friends.
‘Nobody wants to play with me, and only pigeons are willing to accompany me because they won’t dislike me or think I am ugly,’ she said.
Her father said that her skin started to become saggy all across her body when she was about one year old and the condition worsened as she grew older.
After she graduated from her middle school earlier this year, Xiao Feng chose to halt her education and coop up at home because she was scared of meeting new friends and classmates.
‘I am 15 years old, but I have a face of a 60-year-old. How I long to look like a high school student,’ a desperate Xiao Feng wrote as she sought help from Guo Mingyi, a local philanthropist.
Xiao Feng is described as a ‘quiet’ and ‘gentle’ girl, and she likes putting makeup on her face – but only when nobody is around.
‘When she was in her primary school, she was often mistaken for “the parents of pupils”; and whenever she went to the town with her mother, people would surround them, look at them and discuss about them,’ her father told Xinhua News Agency.
Xiao Feng hoped that philanthropist Guo could help her raise funds so her looks could be improved through cosmetic surgery.
‘Uncle Guo, how do I wish to return to a normal life and not feel the need to avoid other people’s attention or feel haunted by my classmates’ whispers,’ she wrote in a letter to Mr Guo.
Last month, Mr Guo, who is also the deputy chairman of All-China Federation of Trade Unions, arranged Xiao Feng to seek medical attention from Sunline.
The hospital immediately agreed to give the teenager a 70 per cent discount for the surgery.
To help Xiao Feng cover the medical bills, Mr Guo organised a city-wide charity event for the girl on December 7.
He brought Xiao Feng and her family to the streets and companies in Shenyang to collect donations. The public handed out more than 40,000 yuan (£4,290) on the day.
In addition, more than 1,000 joggers in Shenyang took part in a charity marathon organised by Mr Guo to show their support and encouragement for the teenager.
Together, the runners rose more than 150,000 yuan (£16,000).
Dr Shi said she and her staff were more than happy to help Xiao Feng because ‘we are capable of doing so’.
The medical team said most progeria patients would see their skin as well as their organs ageing rapidly, but both Xiao Feng and her mother’s symptom only showed in their skin which ‘spells hope for the unfortunate family’.
In a previous interview, lead surgeon Shi said her team planned to rebuild the ligaments of Xiao Feng’s face in a cutting-edge operation and the patient would be able to recover 15 days after the surgery.
Xiao Feng is still recovering from the surgery and has returned home to celebrate the upcoming Lunar New Year with her parents.