How one doctor helped restore a patient’s self confidence

Patient Story

There were external signs that Alshay Connell could not hide. What many people did not know is what they could not see – how those external signs affected her emotionally.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

Her voice is soft as she talks about the pain of her past.

“It was hard. Kids mock and tease and even adults would stare at me,” said Alshay Connell. What they saw were bumps on the left side of her face. They were a mystery to others – they thought they were birthmarks.

But Connell was not born with the bumps. They started when she was about eleven. It was a slow progression she said. Over time the patches became bigger and she began keeping to herself – not going out much. It was something she learned to live with, but she was never happy about it.

She grew up in Portage and relied on a best friend Briana Davis to help her through the tough times in middle school and high school.

“She stuck up for me,” said Connell, 31. “If she knew someone was looking at me she wouldn’t tell me. She would handle it herself.”

Over time the bumps spread – across the left side of her face and down her neck. One near her eye blurred her vision. They varied in size from a nickel to a quarter. Sometimes they bled, scabbed over, and had an odor to them. After high school Connell attended cosmetology school and started working in a salon.

“I liked doing makeup because I was able to change myself,” said Connell. “I couldn’t physically make the bumps disappear but I could make myself feel a little better with makeup.”

After a time she stopped working because she again felt the stares. Her family life was also strained. Her father passed when she was a senior in high school and a drunk driver killed her only sibling last year. He was 21. It left Connell alone with her mother.

She thought about surgery and even looked into surgery but said she was denied by insurance.

Then everything changed. She was at a dermatologist appointment when she met a resident physician who asked her if she’d ever received treatment for the bumps on her face. He encouraged her to make an appointment with IU Health dermatologist Dr. Melanie Kingsley. Dermatology resident Daniel Grove, who worked with Dr. Kingsley described Connell’s condition as “an epidermal nevus on the left side of her face and neck, a harmatoma or overgrowth of epidermis that develops during childhood and presents as brown warty plaques.” Given the lesion’s size and its cosmetically sensitive location surgery was not the best option. Instead, Dr. Kingsley and the residents in her practice treated Connell with a shave removal and laser treatments. The bumps were removed with optimal pigment blending maintaining her natural complexion.

Connell started treatments in April, first focusing on the area nearest to her eye. The treatments were completed over several sessions – moving down her face and onto her ear and neck. Her final treatment was in October – right before her birthday. There is a limited chance that they will grow back.

She had started seeing someone special before she started the treatments and on her birthday her boyfriend planned a special dinner date.

“Before I would have avoided crowds because of the moles, but I felt good about myself and I felt good about being seen in public,” said Connell. “I can’t tell you how much this boosted my confidence. I began losing weight, getting in shape and for once I don’t feel like I have to hide. I am forever grateful to Dr. Kingsley for taking me on as a patient and for restoring my confidence.”

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