A woman in China is undergoing an unusual treatment to have a facial birthmark removed. It involves using implants to stretch her face and create new tissue to replace the birthmark. It has resulted in her being nicknamed the “Gourd Doll”.
The woman’s name is Xiao Yan, and she is 23 years old. She says her birthmark didn’t bother her when she was a child, but she became self-conscious of it as she got older.
She said despite her skin condition, “I enjoyed my childhood playing with my friends. I was carefree.”
But as Yan grew older, she became increasingly aware that her birthmark made her “different.” Her mother said she once had to “beg” the locals to stop making fun of her daughter.
Yan’s birthmark is actually a rare type of large mole that affects about one in every 500,000 people. It is called congenital melanocytic nevus. The particular type that Yan has is sometimes called a “giant hairy nevus.” As a person matures, these moles typically get thicker, grow prominent hairs, develop color variations, and become textured with new growths.
In March of 2017, Yan’s facial mole started causing pain. Doctors recommended that the mole be removed as there was a chance it could become cancerous.
There’s conflicting information on the likelihood of this type of mole becoming cancerous. Some research suggests cancer could develop in as many as 42% of cases, while other estimates range as low as 2%.
Yan decided to follow the doctors’ recommendation. Her family is poor, but they managed to raise 100,000 yuan (about $16,000) to pay for the first stage of the treatment.
Last October, Yan had four balloon-like devices called “expanders” implanted in her face. The expanders will stretch her facial skin creating new tissue that can be grafted to her face after the mole is removed.
Doctors inject saline into the expanders twice a week. Yan said for the first month after the expanders were implanted, her face hurt so much that “I wanted to slam my face into a wall.”
Some people nicknamed her the “Gourd Doll” because they said the implants made her face resemble the shape of gourd fruits. Yan admitted that she used to feel sorry for herself and have low self-esteem. But she said all that has changed. “As I grew up and my family comforted me, I gradually became more outgoing,” and “now I’m much more positive.”
If everything goes according to plan, she’ll have a transplant operation in June.
When Yan started the treatment, doctors told her it would allow them to give her a “new face.” By the time the treatment is over, she’ll have gone through six or seven operations in total. As of January 2018, her family had managed to raise about 50,000 yuan ($8,000) to pay for the upcoming surgeries.