A 26-year-old man in Florida is raising money to fund the amputation of his size-16 foot— the painful result of a rare medical condition that can cause the overgrowth of bones, skin and other tissues.
News.com.au reported that Jeffrey Ortega, of Deerfield Beach, Fla., was born with Proteus syndrome, which has led to the deformation of his hands, hips, legs and feet. The condition, which occurs in fewer than 1 in 1 million individuals worldwide, is the same that Joseph Merrick, the so-called “Elephant Man,” suffered from.
Ortega’s left foot causes him the most pain, he said, as it has ballooned to nearly 17 inches wide and 14 inches long. His right foot has also swelled due to the syndrome and measures just over 14 inches wide and about 12 inches long.
“I was bullied a lot in school, kids would spit on me and said I wore my dad’s shoes,” Ortega told news.com.au. “I also fell a lot, and was eventually pulled out of school because the principal didn’t want to take any chances with me— it was nerve racking for my family.”
Ortega wears Crocs, the only shoes that will fit him, to get around. He has reportedly undergone 11 surgeries to correct his feet, but none have been successful.
“Five years ago, we asked doctors if amputation would be possible,” he told the news website. “I was ready for the surgery but then met someone else who had their foot amputated, and it scared me seeing them walking on their knees. I was a scared teenager, but last year I brought it up to doctors again.”
He said he’s now talking to doctors who have agreed to perform the surgery if he can pay for it in full. Ortega has started a GoFundMe page to raise $42,000, which would cover the surgery, prosthetics and physical therapy that would teach him to walk again. As of Friday afternoon, Ortega’s page had raised about $9,300.
“Having the amputation would improve my life so much,” Ortega told news.com.au. “It would help me walk again and I won’t have to use a wheelchair anymore.”