Eczema almost killed her
At her worst, the ex-engineer was covered with boils, and pus glued her bedsheet to her skin
There are days when Miss Eu Huiling prefers to walk home rather than take public transport.
This, despite, the scorching heat wreaking havoc on her skin.
Miss Eu, 34, a trained civil engineer, suffers from eczema - as a child and as a teenager and underwent conventional treatment with steroid creams and antibiotics.
"In the MRT train, women will tell the children to move away from me and the group will make their fast escape to the next car.
"Adults who are not used to the skin condition will stare unblinking at the eczema affecting my face," she told The New Paper.
Between itchy rashes and stares from strangers, living with atopic eczema has been a challenge for Miss Eu.
She almost died during a treatment at one point.
To help her find a solution so she can lead a normal life, two friends - her secondary schoolmate Karen Hong, 34, and a friend from work, Miss Jackie Goh, 35 - started a page on crowdfunding site GoFundMe to raise money for her treatment here and in India.
Miss Goh, a project manager, said: "I've known Huiling for over 10 years and witnessed first-hand her suffering. Huiling is a very private person and people find it hard to reach out to help. Since she has allowed me into her life, I will do anything to help her."
NO MORE SAVINGS
Miss Eu has exhausted all of her savings on conventional Western medical treatment, of which the "overuse of steroids has caused my cataracts and osteopenia (a medical condition in which the protein and mineral content of the bone tissue is reduced, but less severely than in osteoporosis)," she said.
Unemployed due to her condition, she is currently undergoing ayurvedic treatment at a local clinic, Union Yoga Ayurveda, to keep her condition stable before making a month-long trip to Sivananda Ashram in Kerala, India, for intensive ayurvedic treatment.
She said her condition has worsened in the last 10 years.
Particularly so in 2008, when she was one of the civil engineers launching the inaugural Formula 1 SingTel Singapore Grand Prix.
"The stress, working almost 24/7 and the dust in the area caused my condition to flare up frequently. I had to be hospitalised on a regular basis and eventually had to quit because my condition worsened," she said.
Desperate to alleviate the dry, itchy and painful skin condition, Miss Eu was willing to try anything, from traditional Chinese medicine to naturopathic treatment.
In 2010, she went for a naturopathic treatment that came highly recommended "because many patients with skin disorders had seen great success".
"I thought I had nothing to lose," she said.
But she almost lost everything when her nightmare began.
"The day after the hot herbal bath treatment, my skin erupted in pus-filled boils all over. They were absolutely everywhere - on my face, soles of feet, my whole body.
HOPEFUL: Her face when it was previously covered with pus-filled boils.
"I was listless. The boils broke easily and the pus caused my bedsheet to stick to my skin. I wouldn't know how to begin describing the pain when my mother had to tear the sheets off me," she said.
"My left leg swelled to twice its size around the knee... When I was being rushed to the hospital in the ambulance, every bump on the road felt like my flesh was being torn from my bones," Miss Eu said.
"I was told by the doctor that if I had waited, I would have died from blood poisoning.
"I was pumped full of antibiotics in the next few days. The pain I experienced in the few weeks that came was indescribable, especially when they had to scrape off the dead skin," she said.
Miss Eu was discharged more than two months later, but getting well was an uphill task.
"It was at the ayurvedic clinic that I met this woman who went through a similar eczema ordeal. She is now almost completely free of the illness after seeking a month of intensive ayurvedic treatment at the Sivananda Ashram.
"She was the only walking testament (I had met) so I agreed to her help. She contacted the doctor in India and he is confident of managing my condition," Miss Eu said.
The treatment costs at the ashram are estimated to be $600 a week, excluding travel and accommodation, so both Miss Hong and Miss Goh turned to crowdfunding to help raise $6,000.
But in just two days, they raised $17,350.
Deeply moved by the support, Miss Eu said it has made her more determined to work at getting better and living a normal life.
"I am amazed. I never thought my plight would affect many people, former classmates and strangers alike. It shows that there are people out there who have not given up on me.
"This makes me more determined to work towards recovering," she said.
The stress, working almost 24/7 and the dust in the area caused my condition to flare up frequently. I had to be hospitalised on a regular basis and eventually had to quit because my condition worsened.
- Miss Eu Huiling
More people diagnosed with eczema here
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a common inflammatory skin condition, affecting about one in 10 adults and up to one in five children worldwide.
Skin specialist Gavin Ong said: "Although we have gained much knowledge about atopic eczema over the years, we still do not fully understand this complex skin disorder."
It is a chronic dry skin condition. In mild cases, the skin is scaly, red and itchy. If severe, the skin can weep, crust, blister or bleed.
It affects one in five school-going children in Singapore, and up to six in 10 patients have the condition within the first year of their lives. Almost nine in 10 suffer from eczema by the age of five.
In recent years, more people have been diagnosed with eczema.
Last year, KK Women's and Children's Hospital, on average, saw eight to 10 new cases a day, up from five to eight in 2014.
Eczema is also the top skin condition treated at the National University Hospital and the National Skin Centre. More children under the age of five are being treated for it.
Dr Ong said the use of steroids, usually in the topical form, "is the cornerstone of good eczema management in addition to restoring the defective skin barrier with good moisturisers".
There is no cure for eczema, and he said there is no good medical evidence to suggest that ayurvedic treatment is helpful in the long run.