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Kevin’s eczema story

My late, dear Nana often reminded me that I was “a fighter”. Her words reflect my introduction to this world. Within days of being born, I contracted the highly infectious condition pemphigus in the maternity unit and very nearly died. After six weeks in hospital, where I was christened because of the seriousness of my illness, I finally started to respond to medication and made it home to mum and dad. By then there were already signs of atopic eczema on both my face and body.

My treatments in those early years included, in the main, Betnovate and Hydrocortisone ointments and a variety of emollients. I have little recollection of them being applied, but do remember the relief from scratching and being told “try not to scratch”. My nearest and dearest, through time, have learned that these are not the words to utter to an eczema sufferer! My skin was very red and fiery, particularly my face, as my photographs taken in later life show. It was always my parents’ fervent hope that my eczema would disappear as I grew older, but unfortunately this wasn’t to be.

I enjoyed a very happy and active childhood, despite developing asthma, and both school and family life were full of joy and fun. My asthma attacks brought periods of absence from school, during which, inspired by my much-missed late dad, I developed an interest in music and in particular the guitar. While my asthma was causing me issues in my early school years, my eczema had quietened down a little.

During my early teens, I was a keen tennis and squash player, even winning junior championships at my local tennis club, much to my surprise. I was, however, always self-conscious of sores on my skin and preferred to wear tracksuit bottoms rather than shorts. I had a small group of close friends and did reasonably well at school academically. Social situations did give me a great deal of anxiety though and affected my confidence. I was very much aware of how my eczema appeared, particularly the scarring, redness and bleeding, even though not always apparent facially.

It was in my late teens that my eczema reared its ugly head with a vengeance. I had frequent visits to my GP, short bursts of oral prednisolone and Kenalog injections. Some of these drugs are no longer used by the NHS. I often seemed to pick up infections, because of my poor immune system. So more antibiotic topical treatments and visits to the Dermatology Department which was, at that time, more than 30 miles from home.

I was so pleased to be accepted by the University of Aberdeen to study accountancy, but the severity of the eczema proved wholly disruptive to my studies. After frank discussions with my dermatologist, lecturers and my parents, it was with much disappointment and upset that I had to withdraw from university life after only one term. This was a real low point for me mentally. Unsurprisingly, the eczema “erupted” and I was admitted to hospital for treatment, including sedatives to try and suppress the almost uncontrollable itch even during the day. Regrettably it took me a number of years to be weaned off those drugs.

After the considerable setback of having to give up my preferred course of study, I remained determined to lead as normal a life as possible and forge a career for myself. Following a short period of general office work, when I was 20, I entered the then highly respected world of retail banking. I’d been interested in this profession at school, having studied and passed economics and accountancy exams.

Beginning my career in my hometown of Peterhead, I eventually relocated to Aberdeen. As it turned out, that move proved to be a bit of a godsend as far as my eczema was concerned, as I was recommended a GP who specialised and had a keen interest in dermatology matters. Despite numerous occasions when I used the word “help” on entering his surgery, his concern and care for me remained a constant, right up until his retirement (a day met with much sadness by patients such as me). When I was at my wits end with my condition, I’d phone the surgery and he would return my call that day, often offering to stay back after his last appointment to make time to see me. His patient care was indeed second to none.

In my 18 years in banking and then, after taking voluntary redundancy, a similar period working in the social housing sector, my colleagues, particularly my managers, could not have been more supportive and sympathetic towards my condition, especially when I needed to take time off when my eczema was at its worst. I recall one particular manager saying to me “get yourself home, young man!”, as he could see how much distress and suffering I was in. The pressures in banking were a constant feature in that working environment. I remained determined though to give the job my all, eventually rising to managerial level, something I scarcely considered possible when starting out.

During working life, my medical professionals continued to support me in my battle with eczema. Creams and ointments such as Dermovate, Locoid and Eumovate were regularly prescribed as well as oral antibiotics such as Flucloxacillin to deal with infections. In 1992, my dermatologist at that time, realising that my treatment regime was not improving things, prescribed my first immunosuppressant, Azathioprine. By and large, this regained some measure of control of the eczema and I had fewer flare-ups. I still had problems though and during one particularly bad flare-up I was offered phototherapy treatment, but this wasn’t successful and even burnt my face.

Of course, taking Azathioprine involved regular monitoring and after almost thirty years on the drug, my blood tests started to reveal some issues. Following consultations with my dermatologist, I switched treatment firstly to Ciclosporin, then Methotrexate and finally Mycophenolate Mofetil. Frustratingly, none of these were effective in keeping the eczema under control and indeed I had more frequent visits to my GP surgery and Dermatology Department with yet more pleas for “help”.

Having tried all possible avenues to give me some much-needed relief, I was finally offered Dupilumab injections in July 2023. Since then, despite some dry-eye issues as a side-effect, my eczema has remained relatively calm. I’ve not needed any emergency courses of oral steroids or potent topical steroids. Best of all, itch has significantly diminished! Yes, I still swallow a daily antihistamine tablet, apply Cetraben liberally as an emollient and use QV to wash with, but after suffering this long with eczema, I’ve become used to such preparations and treatments.

I’ve now retired from work and have more time to pursue my interest in music. After playing double bass in two jazz bands, I’m now focusing on the guitar. I’m a keen traveller, particularly within the UK and Europe and enjoy planning excursions and activities for the family and friends who accompany me on such trips – they often refer to me as the “Tour Guide”! Much of my travelling has included memorable jazz and beer festivals!

Since my dad died in 2021, I have taken over maintaining my mum’s garden, a task that gives me great pleasure and satisfaction, not to mention immense mental health benefits. My dad was himself a very keen and inspirational gardener and took great pleasure in showing me the ropes as he became less able physically in his advancing years. I take regular daily exercise via long, brisk walks, benefiting from the proximity of beautiful Royal Deeside to my home, and am looking forward to exploring the more remote parts of Scotland’s majestic countryside in years to come.

After over 60 years, despite a very bumpy ride, lots of pain and heartache not to mention tears, my eczema has not beaten me. I’ve tried to live as full a life as possible, even though there have been times I used to shout at myself and say, “it’s winning”. What is often forgotten is the huge mental strain the condition places on an individual. It’s fair to say that I’ve experienced the depths of despair at numerous stages of my life, and my suffering also had a significant impact on both my mum and dad’s wellbeing. I am, however, very fortunate to have had such a loving and caring family and a group of dear and valued friends. The level of support they have given and concern and understanding they’ve shown throughout my battle with eczema have been immeasurable.

To my fellow sufferers, please take heart from my Nana’s words and remember that we are all “fighters” in our quest to overcome our debilitating condition and prove to others that we can, albeit through ups and downs, live with eczema.