• 10:46
  • 04.06.2020
The woman who is ‘turning to stone’

The woman who is ‘turning to stone’

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A zoo owner is “turning to stone” after contracting a rare and deadly illness while on a tiger trek in the jungle.
Rebecca Willers was diagnosed with Diffuse Systemic Sclerosis after she was bitten by an insect in Kerinci Seblat National Park in Indonesia in 2015.
The incurable disease, which kills one in ten people within five years, has left the conservationist struggling to even brush her teeth as her hands feel like “rock”.
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She was on the trek through the jungle for the Tiger Conservation and Protection Unit (TCPU).
The 37-year-old, who runs Shepreth Wildlife Park in Cambridgeshire, told Mail Online: “The scariest thing has been how rapid the onset has been.
“My doctor has warned me that the next three years will be the most aggressive.
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“Animals are my life but now I sit in the zoo’s office filling in paperwork.”
The disease, which makes her body believe it is under attack, was triggered by the insect bite after her immune system went into “overdrive” due to her being in the jungle.
When she returned to the UK, Rebecca was hit by a number of symptoms until she was diagnosed with the “terrifying” killer disease in September.
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She now faces an anxious wait to discover whether it has spread to her internal organs.
Rebecca has also cancelled her pension and has put her house on the market to free up the equity to pay for tests and treatment.
But she is putting on a brave face and says she only felt sad about her diagnosis when she was forced to cancel a climb on Mount Everest in aid of the Shepreth Wildlife Conservation Charity’s Hedgehog Hospital and TCPU’s team in Sumatra.
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Writing on Facebook, she said: “I’m embracing a very positive attitude as I’m acutely aware of how lucky I am to have been diagnosed so early.
“My symptoms began to manifest two years ago, however I’m still fortunate as many people are not lucky enough to have had such an early diagnosis.
“I have always been a very positive, upbeat person and there is no way this condition will change that about me, but I do know some people have found that a little hard to take – so I can only thank you for going through this process with me in the way that I have chosen.”
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