(NaturalNews) A former beautician and law student has baffled doctors with perhaps the most bizarre thing most of them have ever seen: Her body is growing fingernails from all of her hair follicles.
Shanyna Isom, 28, has consulted every specialist she can think of, including one in the Netherlands, but she still doesn't have a clue about what is wrong with her.
"Black scabs were coming out of her skin," her mother, Kathy Gary, told ABC's"Good Morning, America." "The nails would grow so long and come out and regrow themselves. They are hard to touch and stick you."
It's not just her skin that's been affected; her bones and vision have as well. In fact, she now walks with a cane and relies on her mother to help her out of bed each day.
Isom is currently being treated by doctors at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore. They have told her family she's the only one in the world with her condition.
The treatment - such as it is - has been expensive. She's racked up a half-million dollars in medical bills, and though she's got state insurance (Tennessee), it doesn't cover medical care in Maryland. And costs are only going to rise; Isom and her mother go to Baltimore once a month from Memphis so doctors there can monitor her treatment.
'I am blessed'
Worse, her mother has lost her job as a medical receptionist because she has to stay at home to take care of her.
For now, Isom is putting her energy into creating the SAI Foundation, named after her initials, so she can help treat others with rare, mysterious illnesses.
She's getting some high-profile help. Bank of America has said they would take donations at their branch offices. Also, help has been more personal; friends have organized fundraisers, and even her former high school dedicated a football game to her charity.
And though she's been struck with a debilitating illness, she has remained upbeat, telling ABCNews.com, "I don't know whether to smile or cry. I am very blessed."
Nonetheless, she does have moments of frustration. On her blog, "Pray For Shayna," she has written, "It has taken all of my hair out and has left my body with scabs all over it, plus I have lost about 200 pounds. Two years ago, I was a healthy woman on my own ... had big dreams and goals that I was following until one day my body completely shut down on me."
In 2009, when she was struck by this bizarre illness, Isom was a junior studying criminal justice, said WLBT in Memphis, which first reported her case.
Initially, she went to an emergency room for an asthma attack, where doctors gave her a large steroid dose. Later, they suspected the steroids may have caused an allergic reaction because once she got home, Isom said she began itching. Doctors then prescribed Benadryl, but the itching got worse.
"It was uncontrollable and we didn't know what it was," her mother said.
Soon thereafter, her legs turned black. "It looked as if she had been in a house fire and gotten burned," Gary said.
Finally, some answers - and improvement
Doctors then began treating her for eczema and a staph infection but nothing seemed to work, and all her medical tests came back negative.
Initially, physicians treating her said she would probably just have to deal with it for the rest of her life but she and her mother refused to accept that.
Doctors at Johns Hopkins eventually found a couple of things going on. For one, they found that her body was producing 12 times the normal amount of skin cells in each hair follicle. So, instead of growing hair, she was growing nails.
Also, doctors didn't think her skin was getting enough oxygen, and they discovered she was low in vitamins A, B, C, D and K, her mother said.
Treatment seems to be helping now.
"Her legs aren't covered in black scabs," said her mother. "They are looking better, and her face just looks like she has a real bad sunburn."