Zara Hartshorn, a British teenager whose rare genetic condition has made her appear as if she was in the twilight of her life, has received a new start via a free facelift donated by an American plastic surgeon.
Hartshorn suffers from Cutis laxa, an extremely rare condition that is believed to affect just 30 individuals in Great Britain and causes a person's skin to look aged with wrinkles well beyond their years.
Hartshorn first became aware that she had the condition when she was 4-years-old and despite her small stature had the face of an older woman.
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As a result, Hartshorn suffered years of abuse, both verbal and physical, at the hands of school bullies, who she recalled in an interview with Britain's Daily Mail, would often call her "monkey," and "granny."
"The bullying was worst between the ages of eight and ten," recalled Hartshorn. "Kids used to call me monkey and granny and I was even beaten up just because of how I looked."
Hartshorn inherited the condition from her mother Tracey.
"Mum explained that I had an illness like she did, but that I was beautiful and shouldn't pay any attention to what anyone said," Hartshorn said.
Despite the kind words from her empathetic mother, Hartshorn admitted to the Daily Mail that the abuse from her peers reached such a threshold that she stopped attending school.
"It got so bad I stopped going for a while," Hartshorn said. "I lived in fear of being asked how old I was."
After learning of Hartshorn's condition and the sad story that accompanied it, top U.S. surgeon Dr. Robert Ersek, offered to perform plastic surgery on the British teen for free, the Daily Mail reports.
In addition to receiving a facelift and nose augmentation at no charge from Ersek, the British teen was also reevaluated by Dr Abhimanyu Garg and diagnosed with Cutis laxa.
Previously, Hartshorn and her mother had believed they suffered from lipodystrophy.
Along with the distorted physical appearance, individuals with Cutis laxa also suffer from a shortened life expectancy, weaker joints and heart and lung problems.
"It was an amazing opportunity that I could never of dreamed of before," Hartshorn said. "When I saw myself in the mirror after the bandages all came off it was [a] mixture of surprise and happiness . . . I used to hate my nose, but now I love it."
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The ecstatic teenager, who once said, "I'm 16 but look like I'm 60," says she feels as if a whole new world has opened up to her after the surgery, and is now determined to attend a university and pursue her dreams.
"I feel much more confident and just happier in general," Hartshorn said. "I'm now able to do things like going to college and having a career which I might not have felt possible before. The surgery has given me a boost and now I don't fear what other people think."
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