A poor Chinese mother who was left horrifically disfigured by 70 large tumours growing on her face can smile once again after a hospital carried out the transforming surgery for free.
Li Hongfang, 40, was shunned in public after a rare type of bone cancer caused tissue to grow under her skin, distorting her features beyond recognition. She was forced to endure the condition, known as Chordoma, for more than a decade because she had no money to pay for the surgery.
But after her plight touched hearts around the world, shaming the country's ailing health service on a global stage, a hospital in Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, offered to carry out the surgery, which normally costs £60,000, for free.
Transformation: Li Hongfang, whose face was left horrifically disfigured by 70 large tumours, is transformed after a hospital carried out the surgery for free
Ms Li, a farmer from Tianchao village, Xianyang, in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, said she still hadn't looked at herself properly in a mirror.
She said: 'I feel my head is lighter, and I must look better. I want to save the big time to the time when the surgery swelling goes down. It could be the best gift to me.'
Misery: For years Li, 40, was shunned in public after a rare type of bone cancer caused tissue to grow under her skin, distorting her features beyond recognition
Chief surgeon Guo Shuzhong said Li's surgery had been very successful and later in the year she will go under the knife again to remove tumours in her skull, nasal cavities and throat.
Speaking before she went in for her operation Li said: 'I am so grateful to the people who made this happen.'
'I just want to look normal again, like I feel inside. I'm not a monster and I don't want to look like one.'
Ms Li originally thought the first swelling on her forehead, which appeared in 2001, was an infected insect bite.
'It didn't even itch or ache in any way – but it also didn't go away and in fact just got bigger and bigger,' she said.
But the lump grew bigger and in 2005 she underwent surgery to remove it.
But, not long after more bumps appeared on her face and she was diagnosed as suffering from chordoma.
While the tumours were benign meaning Li's life was never in danger, her face quickly became disfigured and was soon being shunned in public.
Ms Li was living with her husband and two sons at the time, in Tianchao village, Qianxian county, in west China’s Shaanxi province.
She said: 'We didn't have much money but we were very happy and we loved each other and our two boys. I would say life was good then.'
Soon afterwards, her sorrows increased after her husband died.
By 2009 she met Guo Yingping, 40, an orphan, and the two became friends and later married. Her two sons, now aged 17 and 14, have now left home to work.
At the start of July Ms Li underwent an operation to remove seven tumours from her face and she checked out of hospital a week ago.
Tens of millions of Chinese people, particularly those living in the countryside, cannot access a doctor or afford treatment.
Officials are debating a programme which aims to provide health insurance for all its 1.3billion people by 2020, but at present, the health system falls far behind the needs of those it is supposed to be treating.
Preparing for treatment: Ms Li originally thought the first swelling on her forehead, which appeared in 2001, was an infected insect bite
Good luck: Ms Li hugs her 17-year-old son before she goes in for surgery
Ms Li and her husband Guo Yingping, 40, wave goodbye as they leave the hospital in Xian
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