Real Life

Brave mum's flesh-eating cure

Hannah saved her skin with a homemade balm

By Nathalie Owen
It was a regular day of helping a friend with her gardening, but the generous act completely changed Hannah Cadwallader’s life. While digging through dirt, the Tauranga woman came into contact with some cat droppings, which led to a terrifying flesh-eating disease.
“At first, I just thought I was having acne breakouts,” Hannah tells Woman’s Day.
But a month later, in late 2013, doctors diagnosed the single mum with a vicious staph infection that would slowly start to eat away at her face.
“For 18 months, I pretty much battled against half my face being eaten off,” the 25-year-old says. “Medical staff gave me creams, bleach baths twice a week, surgical body washes and antibiotics, but nothing seemed to work.”
While picking up her two kids, Liam, eight, and Madalin, five, from school, Hannah would get called “pizza face”. She recalls, “Kids would start crying and I would joke, ‘If you don’t eat your veges, you will end up like this!’ But the comments took their toll and depression kicked in.”
And things only got worse when Hannah, who was then unemployed, applied for a food grant from Work and Income. Fighting back tears, she recalls, “The case manager referred me to drug and alcohol rehab because they thought I was a crack head. I was in an ugly place and I needed a change.”
With financial help from her mother, Hannah moved to Taupo in early 2014 to be closer to her sister Shoshanna. It was there that she went to see a dermatologist, who told her the infection had become so bad that it would have to be removed from her face.
“Growing up, I had great skin. I didn’t realise how gorgeous I was until this happened,” says Hannah. “I was 23 when he told me that and I remember going home in tears, thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve battled with this for 18 months and now they are going to chop a part of my face off!’”
The final straw came when Hannah’s dermatologist declared that her only option was to have a skin graft, a procedure in which a piece of Hannah’s healthy skin would be used to repair her injury. That night, at her wits’ end, she turned to the internet and began researching alternatives.
Figuring manuka beeswax might have similar qualities to a graft, she melted some down and applied it as a face mask.
“It burnt the hell out of my skin, but when it dried and crumbled off, there was a definite improvement to the fleshy wounds on my face and the itch was reduced,” tells Hannah, who then spent her grocery money on oils to add to the mixture and kept applying it to her infection.
Hannah is making kids Madalin and Liam proud with her new business.
“Within 48 hours, the swelling and inflammation calmed, and every day afterwards the raw look of the sores lessened until I had new skin growing there.”
But while her facial problem was solved, finances were still an issue. Hannah explains, “I still needed to feed my kids, so I made some extra bottles of the balm and advertised them in the local paper – I made my money back overnight!”
She named the product Hannah’s Bumble Balm and word soon spread about its properties. Before she knew it, Hannah was off the benefit and starting her own business, buying 200 litres of coconut oil at a time and staying up until 3am to keep up with demand.
Her face before the treatment.
“I started making it in a four-litre pot in my kitchen and now I have my own factory,” says Hannah, who supplies to five Kiwi supermarkets and is expanding into Asia. “I was at the bottom of the barrel. I had no identity, no passion, nothing – and now I’m going to have an office in China! It’s incredible.”
The public response to the balm speaks for itself. Hannah smiles, “People come up to me and say, ‘I’ve had this patch of eczema for six months, but this is working,’ or, ‘I’ve had psoriasis on my scalp for 20 years and now it’s gone.’”
However, Hannah’s most memorable client was a man who unexpectedly knocked on her door one afternoon. “He’d been hit by a methylated spirits fireball and had second-degree burns all over his face.”
Hannah donated him two tubs of her balm and, a month later, “he was crying on my doorstep and his skin looked incredible”. She smiles, “It’s an amazing feeling to give someone an answer that took me so long to find, without them having to go through what I did.”
Indeed, it’s been a tough three years for Hannah – who’s gone from an unemployed single mother battling ill health to an international businesswoman – but Hannah says her life now is all about giving back.
“I want to help people who think life can’t change. I struggled for a long time, but now I have found my passion and I’m living.”
  • undefined: Nathalie Owen

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