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Mystery illness causes woman to grow fingernails in place of hair

What if an unknown illness cost you everything? That is what happened to a Mid-South woman whose medical crisis has baffled doctors for almost three years now.
/ Source: WSMV-TV

What if an unknown illness cost you everything? That is what happened to a Mid-South woman whose medical crisis has baffled doctors for almost three years now.

It is a medical mystery you may find hard to watch, but what this woman lost to disease she has gained in strength and spirit.

Shanyna Isom was a high school graduate working toward a law degree.

"I was in my junior year and I was studying criminal justice," she said.

Today, loved ones have to help her get out of bed or off of the sofa.

"It's almost as if it's a nightmare and you're trying to wake up out of that," she says.

A nightmare that began in September 2009 when Isom had an allergic reaction to steroids she was given for an asthma attack. Within months, she was eaten alive by a debilitating skin disease doctors have yet to diagnose.

"Over time it started to turn my legs black with bumps," Isom said.

Doctors in Memphis treated Isom for everything from eczema to a staph infection.

"And we know it couldn't be that after all the medication she had been on," Shanyna's Aunt, Jataun Isom said.

"They've tested me from A to Z and everything was coming back negative," Shanyna said.

In August 2011 Isom was accepted into Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

Doctors determined she produces 12 times the number of skin cells per hair follicle, which suffocates her skin.

Instead of hair, her skin follicles produce human nails.

"Where hair grows, nails are growing," she said.

Doctors have been able to control her symptoms.

"I couldn't sit up I couldn't walk," said Isom. "Now I can walk with a cane and sometimes I can walk on my own."

But Isom's mysterious health crisis has caused a financial crisis.

Her state-issued insurance does not cover her out-of-state care and only covers five of the 17 medications she is prescribed.

"So we had to depend on the family and friends and different fundraisers and things like that to help me get back and forth," she said.

Those savings accounts have dried up.

Isom has a quarter of a million dollars in outstanding medical bills. She is afraid she won't be able to continue the treatment that could save her life.

"As of right now, I am the only one in the world with my illness," Isom said.

While Johns Hopkins researchers work to cure her, loved ones rally around her.

"We know that God is a healer and he's going to bring her through," Carrie Isom, Shanyna's Grandmother said.

"At this point I just do everything I can to get the help that's needed for her," said Shanyna's friend Tolungia Webb.

"I love her and I know that she's gonna get better," friend Karintha Rawls said.

Isom has established the S.A.I. Foundation to raise money for her treatments and to one day help others suffering from an unknown illness.

"If it means me dealing with this to help someone else, I'm willing to go through it," Isom said.

The S.A.I Foundation is accepting donations at any Bank of America branch.

On August 24, friends will hold another fundraiser in Memphis.

In September, Westwood High School, where Shanyna attended is dedicating their football game to her cause.

Learn more about the SAI Foundation and how you can help, click here.

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