An aspiring model has bared her leg for the first time in 10 years after a rare condition led to it ballooning in size.
Meagan Barnard’s lymphedema left her feeling suicidal and alone after she banned her family and friends from talking about it.
The 24-year-old hid her leg under baggy clothes and refused to wear a dress or a skirt for more than a decade when her school friends called her the Michelin Man and other cruel nicknames.
Amazingly Meagan even managed to hide the condition from her boyfriend of two years, Robert Neidenfeuhr, 27.
‘If Rob and I were sitting next to each other watching a movie there would be a big, thick blanket between us so he couldn’t feel how hard my leg was,’ reveals Meagan. ‘We had been together for two years when I went public and he had no idea.’
Robert says: ‘She was extremely careful but I really didn’t notice, there were lots of closed doors, lots of lights off – that kind of thing.’
Despite her insecurities, Meagan has decided to go public about the condition in the hope that other young girls do not suffer in silence like she did.
Meagan, from Minneapolis in the USA, says: ‘I really don’t know how I’ve hidden this for so long.
‘I guess I don’t want other young girls to have to go through what I did. At the time I would rather have not been alive than have lymphedema. After opening up, it’s just taken this weight off my shoulders and I feel so much happier.
‘I was extremely depressed. I would come home from school every day, cry and ask why me – it felt like my life was over at 15,’ continues Meagan.
‘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.’
Meagan’s condition began in puberty when her lymph nodes didn’t grow large enough to process fluid, which then remained trapped in her leg.
The result was extreme swelling in her right leg with up to three litres of excess fluid being stored at any one time.
‘I woke up one morning and my foot was slightly swollen,’ adds Meagan. It wasn’t painful at the time and I didn’t think anything of it.
‘I saw multiple doctors who said it may have happened during puberty because my lymph nodes didn’t grow or that I could have injured it in some other way – they had no idea what caused it.
‘When I was finally told that I had incurable lymphedema it felt like my life had ended – that’s exactly how I took the news.’
Meagan has to wear painful compression pants for 70 minutes each day to provide temporary relief from the pain.
‘All my joints ache constantly and normal day-to-day activities like walking and going to work are extremely painful,’ explains Meagan.
‘I’m starting to come to terms with the condition but for 10 years I felt like I belonged in a circus.
‘Along with the pants, I have to use a manual compression pump whenever I can to get rid of the swelling.’
Despite the condition having no known cure, Meagan would be able to gain long-term relief from liposuction.
Unfortunately, health insurance companies in the USA consider her condition to be cosmetic and have denied her the treatment she needs.
The longer she goes without the surgery, the worse her condition will become, which is why she has decided to self-fund the procedure with the help of her friends and family.
‘I really enjoyed modelling for the pictures and would love to do more of that in the future,’ adds Meagan.
‘But without the surgery I feel like many opportunities are not available to me – I just want a chance to live a normal life with normal opportunities.’