A Victorian woman has spoken about the 12 months she spent in “utter agony”, unable to walk or hold her newborn daughter, while a rare skin disease ravaged her hands and feet.
Nicole Preece, 32, from the Mornington Peninsula, was diagnosed with palmoplantar pustulosis (PPP) — an extremely rare form of psoriasis — within minutes of giving birth to her daughter Scarlett in late 2017.
She described feeling as though ‘bugs were crawling beneath my skin’, as her hands and feet disintegrated in front of her eyes.
PPP causes infected pustules and blisters to form on the skin that break easily, as well as deep cracks and flakes.
The disease was so severe, the mother-of-six lost the ability to walk or use her hands, and was bedridden for six months.
“It was absolutely soul-destroying, I’m a happy, fun mum, but this destroyed my life,” she said.
Desperately wanting another daughter, Nicole and her fiance Russell Synot fell pregnant with their second daughter, Scarlett, in 2017.
“Minutes after Scarlett arrived, the psoriasis came on instantly,” Nicole said.
“I was lying in the hospital bed, and I felt this sensation on my feet, which I thought could have been tinea or a fungal infection.”
Nicole didn’t realise it then, but that moment would trigger a disease that would last for more than 12 months.
After the happy family brought Scarlett home, Nicole said her feet and hands continued to “tingle” and become increasingly dry and sensitive.
“I didn’t think it was anything serious, so I didn’t check it out properly,” she said.
But after several weeks, little Scarlett suffered a cluster of seizures and she was hospitalised in a critical condition.
Doctors told her the stress of her baby’s illness triggered Nicole’s PPP.
Nicole’s skin deteriorated rapidly, first from her hands and then her feet.
Blisters and tiny wounds began to form across her palms and were prone to cracking at the slightest touch.
This made things like cleaning the house, or getting up at night to nurse Scarlett, impossible.
“I couldn’t shower because if I tried to wash my hair, the shampoo would burn my hands,” she said.
“I’m a really energetic mum but this stopped me from playing with my kids, or even holding their hands, which was heartbreaking.”
The condition made going out difficult for Nicole as well.
“People would look at me in the street as if I had leprosy,” she said.
“I was so disgusted with myself and ashamed, people were horrified when they saw me at the checkout trying to hand over cash.”
The condition even spread beneath Nicole’s finger and toe nails, amplifying the agony she felt, and then to her feet, making it impossible for her to walk from one end of her house to the other.
“The pain was unbelievable, it felt like I was walking on broken glass but the pain shot straight through my body in a way that’s difficult to explain,” she said.
“It would take me 20 minutes to get from one end of the house to the other, just shuffling along.”
According to Nicole, the disease made her feel “sick, dirty and itchy”.
“It was as if a bug was inside my skin, and it was just crawling around everywhere and biting my skin off,” she said.
Nicole would bandage her hands and wear ugg boots in bed because she couldn’t remove her shoes without breaking her skin.
She spent thousands of dollars on creams, doctors and treatments, from soaking her limbs in vinegar and drinking pureed aloe vera, to undergoing UV phototherapy and eating a plant-based diet.
“I also read that drinking your own urine could help the symptoms and I briefly considered it, but didn’t,” she said.
Finally a dermatologist prescribed Nicole a dose of medication, usually administered to cancer patients, in a bid to help her symptoms.
“The medication made me sick, and thinned my hair out, but it finally started to work,” Nicole said.
In combination with her medication, Nicole thought she would try Moo Goo, a natural Australian psoriasis cream, she found in her local pharmacy.
According to Nicole, the $ 18.50 tube of thick cream did wonders for her physical symptoms.
“When I put it on my rough, cracked skin, it just soaked through and felt unbelievable,” she said.
“It stopped the pain of the psoriasis and helped me use my hands again — it was heaven.”
Now in remission, Nicole hopes to spread awareness about psoriasis to other sufferers so that the community doesn’t stigmatise them so much.
“I’ve been so ashamed and embarrassed by my disease that I want to help other people build up their confidence,” she said.
“I understand it looks horrible, but when you have it yourself, it’s soul crushing.”
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