A nail artist's fingers are turning black and falling off after a rare blood vessel disease is causing her in “excruciating and constant” pain.
Melinda Jansen van Vuuren first noticed her fingertips turning purple, becoming tender and temperature sensitive in October 2021.
The 48-year-old said: “Very quickly – within a matter of two and a half weeks – my fingertips had turned gangrenous."
Doctors have now diagnosed her with Buerger's disease, an extremely rare condition that causes small and medium blood vessels to clot and become inflamed.
It’s closely associated with smoking and Melinda has since kicked the habit, having used tobacco since she was 13, smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
But quitting came too late and today she faces losing three fingertips on her dominant right hand, plus another on her left.
Melinda, from Alberton, South Africa, said: "It’s very severe.
“I'm unable to use my hands basically at all. I can't cook, clean, wash or brush my hair, I can't bathe.
"The pain is excruciating and constant.”
She added: “I'm a personal assistant and a qualified nail technician, so I always work with my hands but I can't anymore.
“I haven't been able to write since last October.”
Doctors told her there is nothing they can do to help and she faces the torture of waiting for her fingertips to simply fall off.
She added: “As far as I know there's no treatment.
“They opted for auto amputation instead of surgical amputation, and basically to treat and prevent this happening again all tobacco products had to be stopped immediately.”
Photos taken by Melinda of her right hand chart the progress of the disease.
The discolouration is hard to see in an initial picture, but soon it looks like an ink smudge on one finger, before a darker colour engulfs several fingers.
In newer images, the affected fingertips have taken on a black-green hue.
And to make matters worse, the loss of these fingertips may not be the end.
“The gangrene may flare up again and progress,” said Miss Van Vuuren.
“It has caused even more depression, anxiety and a lack of self worth.
“It's been one of the most challenging stages of my life. It has taken perseverance, tears and strength to get this far.”
Melinda is now warning others to avoid tobacco, in a bid to save others from her fate.
She said: “It’s been a huge struggle to quit smoking as it always helps with anxiety and also eases pain.
“My advice is to never start – it’s not healthy and looks unattractive.”