- In 2015 Ms Willers trekked through Kerinci Seblat National Park in Indonesia
- She got Diffuse Systemic Sclerosis which makes her body think it’s under attack
- One in ten people with the condition die within five years, doctors told her
Zoo owner Rebecca Willers, 37
An animal conservation worker has been left with a deadly illness after she was bitten by an insect while trekking in the jungle to save the tiger.
Zoo owner Rebecca Willers, 37, has been diagnosed with a rare and incurable condition that she says leaves her body feeling ‘like it is turning into stone’.
Known as Diffuse Systemic Sclerosis, the disease makes her body think its immune system is under attack and hardens her skin and connective tissues.
Ms Willers, who runs Shepreth Wildlife Park in Cambridgeshire, does not know how long she has left to live but doctors have told her one in ten people with the condition die within five years.
Since her diagnosis in September, she has cancelled her pension and is arranging to put her house on the market to free up the equity to pay for tests or treatment.
‘The scariest thing has been how rapid the onset has been,’ she said. ‘My doctor has warned me that the next three years will be the most aggressive. Even brushing my teeth is difficult because my hands feel like they are made of rock – I’m unable to grip anything at all. Animals are my life but now I sit in the zoo’s office filling in paperwork.’
In 2015, Ms Willers trekked through Kerinci Seblat National Park in Indonesia for the Tiger Conservation and Protection Unit. She said: ‘My consultant said my immune system may have gone into overdrive due to being in the jungle and an insect bite could have triggered the condition.
‘I was genetically disposed to the disease and it just needs something to set it off.’ After returning to the UK, she suffered a series of seemingly unrelated ailments until she was diagnosed with Diffuse Systemic Sclerosis. She said: ‘I began googling it and was terrified. Some people die within two years.’
Ms Willers is waiting for test results that will reveal whether it has spread to her internal organs. Her doctor, Professor Christopher Denton, consultant rheumatologist at The Royal Free Hospital in London, said: ‘It’s an extremely dangerous disease and it kills around half of all sufferers.’
Ms Willers, who runs Shepreth Wildlife Park in Cambridgeshire, does not know how long she has left to live but doctors have told her one in ten people with the condition die within five years