Paisley mum tells of leprosy agony after shock diagnosis of ‘eradicated’ disease

A young mum has told how she battled the “eradicated” disease leprosy and how the deadly virus has left her in constant pain.

Doctors were initially baffled by Subodha Handhi’s symptoms. 

They didn’t suspect leprosy, which was “effectively eradicated worldwide” in 2005, according to the World Health Organisation.

The disease is extremely rare but Subodha, 33, is living proof that it still exists.

She was newly married, living in London and studying for a degree in 2010 when she was struck down by excruciating, debilitating pain in her left arm that left doctors baffled.

Painkillers had little effect and, when hospital tests were inconclusive, Subodha – who now lives in Paisley –  returned to her native Sri Lanka to consult with a neurologist.

It was only then experts discovered she was suffering from leprosy.

Subodha Hanhi had a pain in her arm before being diagnosed

It was only then experts discovered she was suffering from leprosy.

“I couldn’t sleep because the pain was so severe,” said Subodha, who grew up in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo but now lives in Scotland.

“We never considered leprosy to me, it was an old-fashioned disease that didn’t exist any more. Doctors did scans and tests and everything came back clear.

“My neurologist only suspected leprosy because I had a pale-coloured patch on my arm.

“When I did get the diagnosis, I was shocked.

“I remember my mum and I just turned around and asked, what is leprosy?'”

Leprosy is a bacterial infection which causes nerve damage and, when left untreated, can lead to a loss of feeling or mobility in the hands, feet and around the eyes.

A loss of sensation can mean burns, blisters and other minor injuries go unnoticed, often leading to disfigurement and disability, while damage to the eyes can leave sufferers blind.

Although there is now effective treatment, in many countries, stigma still surrounds the disease – something Subodha witnessed first-hand.

Today marks World Leprosy Day, when campaigners and charities come together to raise awareness of the condition, and Subodha hopes that by sharing her story she can help to dispel misconceptions.

She said: “When I was diagnosed with leprosy, I really wanted to speak to someone who had overcome the disease.

“There were so many things I wanted to ask, but there was no one.

“It’s always good to know we are not alone in our struggle, and I hope my story will empower others.

“It’s still a stigmatised disease, mainly because there are myths and misconceptions.

“I even experienced discrimination from doctors. I actually stigmatised myself, because I wrongly thought my fingers and my toes were going to fall off.”

Subodha and her husband, Sumedha, 42, returned to the UK in December 2010, where she began multi-drug therapy.

Subodha Hanhi now lives in Paisley, Renfrewshire

“Athough now free from leprosy, she has been left with limited mobility in one arm, numbness in her toes and feet and ongoing pain, which she described as “like 100 people continuously sticking you with pins and needles”.

The couple planned to settle in Sri Lanka but Subodha, despite holding a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s in finance, found it hard to secure work.

They made the decision to move to Scotland, where the mum of two is now a part-time associate lecturer at the University of the West of Scotland, while also completing a PhD, and they are looking forward to a brighter future – with Subodha expecting a third child later this year.

“Life was not as easy as I expected when we returned home,” said Subodha.

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“I remember someone said to me, who would give someone with a disability a job when they can hire a non-disabled person?’

“I was lucky my parents were there for me, and my husband was amazing.

“The culture is so different in Sri Lanka, so we haven’t told some relatives about my diagnosis.

“They just don’t need to know.”

Daily Record – Paisley