Kira-Shai Whitehead suffers from a rare skin condition that leaves her face so swollen and bruised, that strangers ask if she’s been beaten up.
The 17-year-old has spontaneous idiopathic anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction which leaves her lips red and bruised, eye-sockets black and cheekbones swollen.
Since the allergic reactions started two years ago, the Yorkshire teenager has been hospitalised over 30 times, with her facial features so disfigured, teachers and nurses have even pulled her aside to ask if she’s being abused at home.
“When I used to go to school I remember teachers asking if everything was ok at home and if I get on with my parents, they were basically accusing them of beating me up, I was so angry,” Kira-Shai said.
Kira-Shai – who once dreamed of a career in modelling – explained that the reactions are actually a response to anything from emotions to heat or stress, but that medical staff are still unable to determine a precise cause.
“Doctors still have no idea why it started,” she explained.
“Now I have at least two severe reactions per month and won’t go longer than two weeks without needing to come back to hospital,” she says.
And as if the hospital visits weren’t enough, constant stares and questions from strangers have also left Kira-Shai uncomfortable being out in public.
The teenager explained that she would sometimes hide herself away in the midst of a particularly bad flare-up, something her dad Tim remembers all too well.
“Kira-Shai has been through such a lot in the last few years and at times, she has been scared to go out as she didn’t want people to see her black eyes and swollen lips,” her dad said.
“Kira-Shai has spent months hiding away to avoid being questioned by strangers.”
Now, the brave teenager is tackling the issue of stigma head on starting her own awareness campaign with the support of her family.
“I am staying positive and I’ve set up my own campaign ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’,” she said, explaining many people assume she’s been in a fight when they see her face, and she wants to challenge the stigma.
For now the teenager is doing her best to live a normal life, and says the campaign is helping her get there.
“I don’t like to let my allergies hold me back and now I’ve started to share my story the support has been amazing,” she said.
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