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Doc Talk: Local woman wins battle against rare skin disease that grew from a mosquito bite

A simple mosquito bite that wouldn't heal was eventually diagnosed as a rare skin disease, but was eventually cured, even though it left a scar. (WWMT/Patrick Hagan)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article includes photos of a graphic nature that might not be suitable for all audiences.

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. — “It looked like a mosquito bite,” Corlis Watkins-Nass said as she described what started as a small bump on her leg.

She figured that’s all it was, but eventually it turned into a hole on her leg that continued to grow and became extremely painful.

“It felt like someone had a cigarette lighter on my leg because the skin is like, sizzling,” she said.

Watkins-Nass was diagnosed with a rare skin disease called pyoderma gangrenosum in 2015. It is a rare disease. According to the Mayo Clinic the exact cause of pyoderma gangrenosum is unknown. The condition is not infectious or contagious. It's often associated with autoimmune diseases such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease and arthritis. And it might have a genetic component.

In Watkins-Nass’s case, her condition was aggressive to the point that doctors didn’t know if they could stop it or save her leg.

“They would measure my leg and every day the wound would get bigger and bigger," she said.

But through it all, she found a way to remain hopeful, faithful and under the care of doctors at the Ascension Borgess Wound Clinic.

“We’re family here," said Mary Beth Kaiser, a nurse practitioner at the Ascension Borgess Wound Clinic. "You become family because you’re here all the time. You’re here once a week. Not only are we taking care of you physically, but sometimes we’re doing that emotional support for you as well.”

Watkins-Nass said she found that support in her caregivers, friends and family.

“I don’t think I’d be alive today if I didn’t have those people and that support system there for me,” she said.

Her goal, of course, was to get better but the silver lining was the silver bell she got to ring once she healed.

“You can go to a really dark place with this disease, to the point where you want to die. Because when the pain meds don’t work, when you’ve prayed all you can, I mean, there were days where I hurt so bad that I couldn’t even speak," Watkins-Nass said.

It took surgery, countless hospital visits, more than a million dollars in insurance claims and even more patience and prayers, Watkins-Nass said. But after exactly three years of battling agonizing pain, Watkins-Nass was finally free of the disease.

“I always say, you just need the faith the size of a mustard seed and that’s what I had and it just grew from there. Every time the wound would start to get smaller then you’re like, ‘Great! This is wonderful! This is wonderful!”

And that silver bell? When Watkins-Nass got the good news, while surrounded by the people she said helped to save her life, she rang that silver bell with all her might.

“When I got an opportunity to ring that bell out there," she said. "just the joy."

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