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Physicians teaming up to ID and treat Makeba's rare skin condition

Makeba Garner's story

Makeba Garner
Makeba Garner – Hampton, Virginia
When I first met Dr. Alex Ortega at VCU Medical Center in Richmond in 2015, I had been hospitalized several times since 2010 for a condition that started out as an ingrown hair a year earlier, and presented itself as a series of ulcers on my head. Up until that point, no one had determined exactly what my ailment was. I almost lost my ear at one point, went through several surgeries at different hospitals, had my ulcers drained repeatedly, and had been placed on antibiotics for what my physicians thought might be an infection.

Working closely with my plastic surgeon, Dr. Ortega put two and two together and helped diagnose my condition as pyoderma gangrenosum on my scalp — a rare condition that only affects approximately six out of every million people. Pyoderma gangrenosum is often misdiagnosed, and can lead to serious scarring in affected areas. As it turns out, Dr. Ortega has closely researched this condition. I was so relieved to have a name to it.

Dr. Ortega was able to come up with a wonderful medication regimen for me, known as combination therapy. After three months, everything started calming down; everything came together. While I still have flare-ups, I’ve been better ever since.

The dermatologist's perspective

"I worked closely with my colleagues in dermatology, plastic surgery and gastroenterology to help identify Makeba’s condition and help treat her symptoms. I told her, ‘We know what you have, but it's going to be difficult to treat you, but we can get you better.’ We added immunosuppressing medication. After six months, she was 90% healed."

—Alex Ortega, MD
Oregon Health & Science University