What started as difficulties in breathing for a 27-year-old beauty therapist soon became a life-changing diagnosis.
Georgina Pantano, now 36, started experiencing challenges breathing in 2012.
She went to Poland - where her mother is from and which has cheaper cost of healthcare - for treatment.
Little did she know she would be spending over 10 months there. She said:
It was really traumatic. I didn’t say goodbye to anyone and was forced to quit the job I loved. I understand Polish, but I don’t speak it very well, so I couldn’t even express myself in the way I wanted to during my treatments.
Test results showed Georgina had a rare and incurable condition called diffuse systemic scleroderma. This was making her skin and lungs rock hard.
She was also found to have pulmonary fibrosis, which occurs when the lungs become scarred and damaged, affecting their ability to absorb oxygen – explaining the difficulties she had breathing.
She returned to the UK in 2013 but she was never the person she was when she left.
The once social and fun-loving Georgina can no longer work nor can she walk for a short distance without getting tired.
Before this happened, I was really sociable, I went out every weekend. I went to clubs, festivals and was living a really exciting life. I loved my job as a beauty therapist. I had to completely readjust. I used to be the life and soul of the party and now I can’t even walk to my car from the shops. I’d swapped nights out for hospital stays.
She has ruled out the possibility of dating again due to her condition.
Almost a decade after her diagnosis, Georgina is now trying to create more awareness about her condition which she describes as a hidden disability.
My condition is extremely disabling, but I feel like I have to justify myself all the time, as it isn’t immediately obvious to other people. I get dirty looks all the time if I park in a disabled bay, or even use a disabled toilet. Just because I don’t look sick doesn’t mean I’m a liar.
Scleroderma is estimated to affect 250 people in a million with women having it more often than men. It most commonly occurs between the ages of 30 and 50.