Teenager gets her smile back

TODAY Lara Pepper has plenty to smile about.

When she was just 17, Lara developed a rare condition which left her unable to smile or laugh.

She first suspected something was wrong when she developed a tingling sensation in her lips and within a matter of weeks she began slurring her words.

While preparing to return to Ipswich School to study for her A-levels in September 2008, Lara noticed that her eye-lids had begun to droop. From there the symptoms gradually worsened.

Lara, of Holbrook, now 19, told the EADT that the muscles of her mouth would randomly seize up and her lips would become swollen.

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“Sometimes I couldn’t smile or speak and I would feel exhausted simply trying to eat a meal,” she said.

“At other times, I was unable to close my eyes to sleep because my muscles just wouldn’t respond.

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“I became really scared when my tongue became paralysed and I was unable to swallow.”

After several visits to doctors, who were all baffled by the symptoms, Lara went to the dentist wondering if it was due to ongoing orthodontic treatment.

The youngster said: “My dentist referred me to a neurologist because he knew something wasn’t right.

“After a few tests which included following a stick with my eyes, my facial muscles dropped and he instantly diagnosed me with Myasthenia Gravis.”

The symptoms of the autoimmune disease are brought on by stress and excitement and Lara was given tablets to stimulate her nerve function, as well as a heavy dose of steroids and immune-suppressing drugs to stop destructive antibodies from forming.

Her medication caused a series of “scary side effects”, including headaches, a round, moon-shaped face and hair loss.

Her parents, Jo and Ian, scoured the internet for a permanent solution and doctors at the Oxford Myosthenia Centre at the city’s John Radcliffe Hospital recommended a thymectomy – an operation to remove the thymus gland which sits behind the breast bone. In March, Lara had the four-hour operation in the hope it would lead her into remission.

Currently studying geography and economics at Reading University, she said the hardest part of the disease were the times when she was unable to smile.

“Inside I was smiling but I couldn’t use my muscles enough to bring the smile to my face. It was frustrating because those who didn’t know me would simply assume that I was moody.

“I still don’t know if I’m in remission and it is simply a case of waiting to see whether the side effects go as I keep lowering my drugs.

“For now I am just loving life – I’m enjoying every single minute of it and I’m smiling again!” The brave youngster has now set her sights on running the London Marathon in hopes of raising awareness.

She added: “Before I was diagnosed, I had never heard of MG and then suddenly it was a big part of my life.

“It’s hard for others to understand what sufferers go through, because it is so unusual.

“By running the marathon I think I can make a big difference and prove that nothing can hold me back.”

For more information visit www.mga- charity.org

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