A black man has revealed how taking prescribed acne medication turned his skin almost entirely white and caused all of his hair to fall out after he suffered a rare and serious reaction to the treatment.
Kirt Thibodeaux II, 31, from Saint Martinville, Louisiana, was first prescribed the acne drug minocycline in 2017 – but shortly after he began the treatment, he began to suffer from a series of complications.
The project manager was diagnosed with a rare condition known as drug hypersensitivity syndrome, which is also referred to as drug reaction with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms (DRESS).
DRESS is a severe allergic reaction to a medication that can quickly become fatal if left untreated – and in Kirt’s case, it caused a series of severe symptoms, including chills, a rash, and loss of toenails, before later resulting in vitiligo and alopecia, both of which are autoimmune-related reactions.
Then and now: Kirt Thibodeaux II, 31, from Saint Martinville, Louisiana, has revealed how a rare reaction to acne medication left him bald and with white patches all over his skin
Struggle: The project manager, pictured before his acne medication reaction, was prescribed the drug minocycline in 2017, however he quickly began experiencing painful symptoms
Upset: Kirt began suffering from a fever and chills, and he later developed alopecia and vitiligo as a result of a rare condition called drug reaction with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms
After experiencing his initial reactions to the drug, Kirt avoided seeking medical attention, assuming that his symptoms – which included a fever, chills, and peeling skin, were a result of his body getting used to the acne medication.
However, his symptoms continued to worsen over time, prompting him to visit his doctor – who delivered the devastating DRESS diagnosis – while revealing that Kirt could have died as a result of his condition had he waited even an hour longer to seek help.
In most cases, DRESS is relatively easy to treat – and many patients don’t experience any other symptoms beyond a rash and a fever. However, in Kirt’s case, he began to develop autoimmune reactions to the syndrome, which led him to develop vitiligo and alopecia.
Kirt was first diagnosed with alopecia in August of 2017; the condition causes the immune system to attack the hair follicles, resulting in the hair falling out in clumps. For some sufferers, the hair loss will be partial, however others, like Kirt, experience total baldness all over their body.
Then, in November of that same year, Kirt was diagnosed with vitiligo, an autoimmune disease that causes the pigment-producing cells in the skin to die or stop functioning. This then results in white patches forming across the face, body, and limbs.
Kirt started to avoid going outside, feeling that his new conditions made him ugly – but luckily, with his group of friends and family supporting him, he eventually began to get used to his new appearance.
‘The primary reason I have this beautiful skin is because I have a syndrome called DRESS,’ said Kirt.
‘I went to a dermatologist and was prescribed an acne drug called minocycline.
Evolving: After he began to lose his hair and develop white patches on his skin Kirt (pictured left before his illness and right after) lost all of his confidence and refused to go outside
Danger: Kirt (pictured before his illness) initially avoided going to the doctor when he began developing symptoms, wrongly believing that his body was simply adjusting to the drugs
Concern: By the time he sought medical attention, Kirt was told by doctors that he could well have died from his DRESS symptoms
Shocking: ‘The medicine was attacking my body, and if I would have stayed home for another hour, I could have suffered adverse consequences,’ he recalled
‘Soon after taking the prescribed medication, I experienced severe adverse effects. My temperature spiked and I ignored all the signs
‘I thought that my body was adjusting to the new foreign substance.
‘However, I was wrong in every possible way. I had a severe allergic reaction to the medication.
‘When I finally received appropriate medical attention, the doctor told me that I could have died. The medicine was attacking my body, and if I would have stayed home for another hour, I could have suffered adverse consequences.
‘This diagnosis happened in the summer of 2017, and I was diagnosed with alopecia in August and vitiligo in November – all in the same year.
‘I felt ugly – I had a lot going on. My skin was shedding and falling off; it felt like it was on fire. I had the type of rash that wouldn’t quit – it was worse than having chickenpox.
‘I was freezing cold all the time and my fingernails and toenails were falling off.
Silent and deadly: How rare drug reaction DRESS can prove fatal if left untreated
Drug reaction with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms (DRESS) is a very rare and very serious adverse drug reaction that typically begins with an extensive skin rash, before causing much more severe symptoms.
Although there are some drugs that are more commonly associated with the condition, including antibiotics, gout treatment medication allopurinol, and seizure drugs, DRESS can be caused by almost any form of medication.
In most cases, symptoms begin between two to six weeks after the patient has started taking a course of medication and while these usually begin with a rash that can be quickly and easily treated, the symptoms can become much more severe and ultimately lead to organ failure.
In the long-term, patients can develop autoimmune diseases and responses as a result of DRESS, including conditions like vitiligo and alopecia.
The sooner that patients seek medical treatment, the easier the symptoms of DRESS are to address and the milder they will be.
In rare cases, DRESS can be fatal – particularly among those who experience organ failure.
Devastating: Kirt (pictured as a child) admits that he felt ‘ugly’ when he first started experiencing symptoms of alopecia and refused to see anyone but close friends and family
Learning: Although Kirt says he found it easy to adjust to his vitiligo, his alopecia was a very different story, particularly because he’d always had a ‘fear of going bald’
Acceptance: Eventually, he learned to love his new look and he now proudly shows off his unique appearance on social media, where he helps others with their self-confidence
‘I felt like I looked like a monster – outside didn’t see me too much. Initially, I just spoke to my family and friends.
‘To be honest, vitiligo was never a huge obstacle for me. It did bother me at first, but I had so much love and adoration from family that the skin wasn’t a problem.
‘The sores I had were very disgusting, but once I began to heal, everything eventually began to work itself out.
‘Now, alopecia was a totally different rollercoaster of emotions. I’ve always had a fear of being bald and it seemed like my biggest fear was coming to light.’
After struggling with his self-esteem, Kirt began posting on social media again in 2018, ready to tell his story, and he has since begun proudly posting images of his vitiligo and alopecia in the hopes of inspiring others to embrace their natural appearance.
‘I have alopecia universalis, which means I’m completely hairless. It took some time to get used to, but the outcome is now something I wouldn’t change for anything.
‘My skin is so smooth. Who knew my nightmare would become something so beautiful?
‘I’m not someone who was comfortable with makeup, so I didn’t have a choice.
New outlook: ‘I just needed to give myself the much-needed time to take it all in and embrace everything about me,’ he explained
Moving on: Kirt has even tried his hand at modeling in recent years and he is making it his mission to bring more diversity to the industry
Bold: ‘I feel powerful, strong and beautiful. To be able to say that as a black man and stand by it is powerful in itself,’ he said
‘I just needed to give myself the much-needed time to take it all in and embrace everything about me.’
Kirt has now learnt to love his appearance so much that he’s even started modelling and loves bringing more diversity to the industry.
‘Diversity is very important to me. The world we live in today is steadily growing and evolving, and I think we should show that evolution in every field,’ Kirt said.
‘We tell kids that anyone can be whatever they want – so why not let everyone see that?
‘The most rewarding thing is when people appreciate the beauty in the skin condition that I continue to advocate for.
‘The messages I receive and comments I’m sent really let me know that I’ve kept my promise to myself and to god.
‘We need to be able to love people for who they are. I think that’s how you get the best from anyone.
‘I feel powerful, strong and beautiful. To be able to say that as a black man and stand by it is powerful in itself.’
WHAT IS VITILIGO?
Canadian fashion model Winnie Harlow is a known sufferer of vitiligo
Vitiligo is one of the most common autoimmune skin diseases and is caused by a lack of melanin, the pigment that gives skin its colour.
Late singer Michael Jackson always said he was blighted by a rare skin disease called vitiligo – but his claim is shrouded in controversy as many experts are adamant he wasn’t a sufferer.
Canadian fashion model Winnie Harlow is a known sufferer.
The body’s immune system attacks the pigment cells, mistaking them for foreign invaders.
This causes painless white patches on exposed areas such as the face and fingers, although they can also appear on the wrists, around the eyes, groin, armpits and inside the mouth.
The disease affects around one in 200 people, and about 50 per cent develop their first symptoms before the age of 20, though it’s not clear why.
However, ‘stressful’ events, such as childbirth, hormone changes or even cuts to the skin, may trigger it — there is also a genetic link.
There is no cure, but some treatments can reverse pigment loss if used early enough.
WHAT IS ALOPECIA?
Alopecia, which causes baldness, is thought to be an autoimmune disorder. The immune system – the body’s defense system – turns on itself.
What are the symptoms?
‘Typically, one or more small bald patches, about the size of a 50p piece, appear on the scalp. The hair can start to regrow at one site, while another bald patch develops. Hair may also begin to thin all over the head,’ says Marilyn Sherlock, chairman of the Institute of Trichologists.
What causes it?
‘For some reason, the body’s immune system begins to attack its own hair follicles. Special white blood cells in the body, known as T-lymphocytes, cause the hair to stop growing,’ she adds.
Can worry make it worse?
Stress has been shown to prolong the problem.
Is it an inherited condition?
There is strong evidence to suggest that alopecia, like other auto-immune diseases, runs in families. About 25 per cent of patients have a family history of the disorder.
Who gets it?
Alopecia areata usually affects teenagers and young adults, but it can affect people of any age. It is just as common among men as women.
Is there a cure?
There is no known cure, although there are various treatments which may be effective for some people.