A 24-year-old woman from Minneapolis is firing back at bullies by speaking out about a rare inflammatory condition she’s hid from the world since she hit puberty.
Express.co.uk reported that Megan Barnard was suicidal after she was diagnosed with incurable lymphedema at age 15. The painful condition has caused her right leg to look inflamed, a symptom that caused her classmates to nickname her the “Michelin Man.”
“At my lowest point, I had written a suicide letter to my dad— I told him I was done and I was just going to end it,” Barnard told Express.co.uk.
The news website reported that Barnard developed lymphedema when her lymph nodes didn’t fully develop to allow for fluid processing, an effect that caused fluid to accumulate in her leg.
Today, her right leg contains up to three liters of extra fluid at a time. She must wear compression pants for 70 minutes each day and use a compression pump to relieve some of the pain.
"All my joints ache constantly, and normal, day-to-day activities like walking and going to work are extremely painful,” Barnard told the website.
She said she has seen several doctors who said the condition likely developed during puberty or that she may have injured her leg in some other way. “They had no idea what caused it,” she told the news website.
For almost the past 10 years, Barnard has hid her leg from her peers by wearing baggy clothes and covering her limb with a thick blanket at home. She even managed to keep her condition a secret from her boyfriend of two years.
“I didn’t really notice,” Robert Neidenfeuhr, 27, Barnard’s boyfriend, told Express.co.uk. “There were lots of closed doors, lots of lights off— that kind of thing.”
Barnard told the news website she is now getting vocal about the disease because she doesn’t want other young women to suffer in silence as she had. She has also modeled for photos to help raise awareness for her cause
and the condition.
"I'm starting to come to terms with the condition but for 10 years I felt like I belonged in a circus,” she told Express.co.uk.
Barnard’s next mission is to raise $44,000 on GoFundMe, a page she set up to help cover surgery costs that her health insurance won’t take care of.
“To insurance companies, my condition is cosmetic and is looked at no differently than having unnecessary plastic surgery. In reality, having lymphedema is anything but cosmetic,” Barnard wrote on her GoFundMe page. “I cannot do this on my own so I am finally opening up about my life and telling you all for the first time that I suffer from lymphedema. I am asking for your help to get my life back.”