Bizarre Condition Causes Woman to Grow Fingernails instead of Hair

Since 2009, 32-year-old Shanyna Isom has been suffering from a mysterious skin condition that causes fingernails to grow out of the hair follicles all over her body. The mystery illness is so inconceivably strange that even after five years, doctors have no idea what is wrong with her. According to physicians treating her at the Johns Hopkins Medical Center, in Baltimore, Shanyna is the only person in the world suffering from the bizarre disease.

It all started in 2009, when Shanyna – then a law student at the University of Memphis – suffered a massive asthma attack. She went into the emergency room where was given a large dose of steroids. Soon after, she developed an allergic reaction to the steroids, and her skin began to itch uncontrollably. Although she was prescribed Benadryl and other allergy drugs , her condition kept getting worse.

“It was uncontrollable and we didn’t know what it was. Black scabs were coming out of her skin,” Shanyna’s mother Kathy Gary explained. “The nails would grow so long and come out and regrow themselves. They are hard to touch and stick to you.” Soon, her legs started to turn black.


“It looked as if she has been in a house fire and gotten burned,” Kathy added. “We could not figure out what was going on. She was just breaking out everywhere. Her body was scabbed all over.” As the condition worsened, it began to affect her bones and vision as well. She couldn’t walk without the help of a cane, and she was losing 10 to 15 pounds a week.

A series of tests were conducted, including a bone marrow biopsy, but they all proved inconclusive. The doctor in Memphis that Shanyna was seeing at the time had completely given up hope of ever finding a cure. “He said she would be like that for the rest of her life,’ said Kathy. “But I couldn’t accept that.” So the family kept looking for treatments until they finally got accepted at Johns Hopkins in 2011.


The doctors there conducted more tests and finally figured out that Shanyna was producing 12 times the number of skin cells in each hair follicle. Instead of growing hair, the follicles were actually producing human nails. They suspected that it could be a because of a vitamin deficiency, or because her skin wasn’t getting enough oxygen.

The new treatment plan at Johns Hopkins is actually helping her condition improve a bit. Through intensive treatment, they have managed to remove the hard, spiny growths from the follicles on her head. “Her legs aren’t covered in black scabs,” her mother said, back in 2012. “They are looking better, and her face just looks like she has a real bad sunburn.” She has had to travel to Baltimore at least once a month since then, in order to have her condition monitored.


Unfortunately, the treatment is quite expensive and Shanyna has unpaid medical bills worth $1 million. The medicated pads that keep her alive cost $25,000 a month. Although she has state insurance, it doesn’t cover medical care in Maryland, where she lives. And to make matters worse, her mother lost her job as a medical receptionist because she has to care for Shanyna full-time. The family’s savings have long since dried up.

“It’s almost as if it’s a nightmare and you’re trying to wake up out of that,” Shanyna said. “We had to depend on the family and friends and different fundraisers and things like that to help me get back and forth.”


She also created the S.A.I Foundation (named after her initials) to help people who suffer from mysterious illnesses. The foundation accepts donations through various Bank of America branches. People have donated heavily to the cause, including popular TV personality Anderson Cooper, but the money just keeps disappearing in the face of all the treatments she has to go through.

Her friends and family continue to pray for her recovery someday. “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.

“I don’t know whether to smile or cry,” said Shanyna, who is touched by people’s generosity. “I am very blessed.”

Photos: Shayeisom

Sources: Inquisitr, ABC News

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