(PLEASE NOTE: GRAPHIC IMAGE AT BOTTOM OF PAGE)
A CHARITY worker whose life was wrecked by a flesh-eating bug is getting a new face built by doctors.
Mother-of-six Linda Jaap lost an eye and much of the left side of her face after she fell in the bath and contracted necrotising fasciitis.
The 54-year-old, who almost died, could not go out in public without an eye patch and scarves covering her face – and even then children would recoil in terror.
After the failure of dozens of surgical operations to reconstruct her ravaged features, doctors are now creating what is believed to be the first prosthetic face for a flesh-eating bug victim in Scotland.
Linda, from Kelty, Fife, hopes the lifelike mask will allow her to live a normal life after five years of mental and physical pain.
She fell and cut her face while getting out of the bath in July 2008 to answer a telephone call from a neighbour.
Linda, who has never told her story, said the wound became infected with necrotising fasciitis which spread rapidly. Surgeons removed much of her face to stop the bug spreading to the internal organs and killing her.
Even then, she was placed in a coma and put on a ventilator for several days, watched over by her husband of 22 years, Robert, 58.
Linda said when she came round she was “trapped in a nightmare”.
She said: “When they told me that I had lost half of my face I was devastated, as were my family.
“It just didn’t seem real, I couldn’t believe that this was happening to me. I was scared because I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Linda described the first time she looked into the mirror, after the life-altering procedure as “shocking”.
“I didn’t recognise myself. I was devastated but I was just happy to be alive.”
She added: “I’d lost all my hair so I started to wear hats and wrap scarves around my head to cover up my scars so people wouldn’t notice.
“And I wore eye masks but they were dysfunctional and not comfortable, it didn’t feel feminine.
“Kids were scared and when I would walk to the shops people would stare at me and it felt uncomfortable.
Linda, who runs Loving Hands, which donates money raised for charity by selling knitting, has undergone 30 operations but surgical reconstruction has now been ruled out.
“Over the last five years doctors have attempted to reconstruct my face surgically but it hasn’t worked,” said Lou.
“The plastic surgeon told me there’s no other surgical things we can try, we’d exhausted all rates. The skin is so fragile it regularly tears under the stress of everyday life.”
But doctors at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, are now creating a prosthetic face for Linda that will finally give her a normal appearance.
The sophisticated mask is attached every day using special glue. Doctors plan to make the business easier by using magnets attached to her cheek bones and eye socket.
The mask itself is made of medical-grade silicon, making it comfortable and lifelike in appearance.
Doctors used Linda’s intact right side to create a wax mould for the silicon.
The vital finishing touches, which have yet to be added, include eyelashes, eyebrows, and an acrylic eye.
The whole process is taking doctors 11 weeks to complete and Lou has seven still to go.
She said: “When I was told I could have a mask built to match the remaining side of my face I was over the moon.
“I can feel confident again and be social and continue with my life without people judging me and looking at me in a negative way.”
“I spend half an hour each morning glueing the mask onto my face, then using special make up to blend the mask in.
“I got a prescription for new wigs too so soon I’ll have a new face and be a new person and I absolutely can’t wait.
“My friends and family are as excited about it as I am, and we can all celebrate together when the mask is complete.”
Principal technologist Yvonne Moore, an expert in prosthetic facial reconstruction at Ninewells, is leading the team which is creating Lou’s new face.
Ms Moore, who usually works with cancer patients and accident victims, confirmed: “This is the first orbital prosthesis I have made for a survivor of necrotising fasciitis.”
She added: “We do it so they can go out and feel like people aren’t staring at them and they can have a social life…and to gain a sense of normality and gain confidence.”