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VIDEO: Young man with severe skin condition lives life to the fullest

James in Las Vegas with his sister, Gemma
James in Las Vegas with his sister, Gemma

James Dunn was born with Epidermolysis Bullosa, an incredibly painful skin condition that causes the skin to blister and burn at the slightest touch.

Causing pain equivalent to third degree burns, James has to wear bandages up to his neck every day.

The 22-year-old has recently recovered from skin cancer and because of his EB, skin cancer will continue to be a risk for the rest of James’ life.

Buy always upbeat, James doesn’t let his condition hold him back.

James says: “I’ve had to live with it all my life so I just get on with it.

“People say ‘doesn’t it get you down, doesn’t it make you depressed?’ And to be honest it really doesn’t.”

He adds: “The more obstacles you face the more troubles in life that come to you, the more positive and happier you get. You come out at the end of it smiling no matter what happens.”

In December last year, James noticed what he suspected was skin cancer on his hands and went to the doctor’s to have it checked out. A biopsy confirmed his fears. Thankfully the cancer was removed successfully and even during his stay in hospital, James remained positive.

He says: “Not a day went by where we weren’t laughing and joking, even though that was most probably the worst time of my life physically and mentally.”

Rather than let his condition and disability hold him back, James has made the decision to live life to the full.

He drives a specially modified car and enjoys going out shopping and eating out. He also plays wheelchair football once a week.

“I go out a few days a week with my friend, Mark. We go to the cinema, shop, have fun, talk about girls. We just get out and do whatever any 22-year-old does.”

James says friends and family are the reason he is able to stay so optimistic:

“Without my mum and dad, my sister, my aunties, my friends I couldn’t stay this positive.”

The Merseryside lad’s infectious personality has certainly been the best prescription for his nearest and dearest. There is currently no known cure for EB and treatment extends to managing the pain and preventing infection.

James injects himself with morphine every four hours to handle the pain and has to change his bandages, which takes between three to four hours every other day. Once he takes off the old bandages James must check for infection and any new blisters, which need to be burst with a needle.

He says: “There isn’t a moment that goes by I’m not in pain.

His mum, Leslie, 54, remembers first discovering her precious son suffered from EB shortly after giving birth.

“He was born with no skin on his feet and a couple of digits were missing and where the midwife had handled his face, the finger marks had taken his skin off,” she explains.

Known as ‘butterfly babies’, because their skin is as sensitive as a butterfly’s wing, only an estimated 5000 people in the UK currently suffer from EB.

Leslie had to carry her son to and from school and ensure his skin was checked daily for infection and new blisters. Sometimes James would suffer burns to his eyelids and even his throat, which could cause problems with breathing.  

Although the Dunn family don’t talk about James’ life expectancy much, it’s acknowledged that his condition will deteriorate over time and the threat of skin cancer is a constant.

“James is the most positive person I know. He’s inspirational and he doesn’t let anything get in it’s way,” says his sister Sammy.

It was through close friend, Lisa Gavelty that James came up with the idea of putting together a bucket list of goals and experiences he wants to achieve.

The ‘infinite’ list includes plans to travel to Asia and America, to learn how to fly a plane and to go to South Africa, a country he has previously visited, to see lions. 

James has already ticked off going to Las Vegas - a place he loves so much he has already visited it SIX times - and meeting magic act Siegfried & Roy. The musicians, known for using animals including elephants and tigers in their shows, invited James to visit their 100-acre estate and have afternoon tea with them.    

James says: “I want to continue doing the things I enjoy and continue facing new goals and new obstacles and overcoming them.”

Leslie, who is James’ carer, is overwhelmed by what her son has achieved in his life, in the face of such challenging circumstances.

She says: “James has surprised me so many times over the years: first of all by going to an able-bodied school and then having the personality he has, making people laugh and making a lot of friends.

“The biggest thing for me was letting him drive, which I never thought he would be able to do but he’s doing it.”

James’ courage and enthusiastic attitude is a wonderful example of what can be achieved even in the face of extremely difficult circumstances.

He says: “When people ask me what my motto is or how I live life, it’s YOLO – basically you only live once. You’ve got one chance at this life so while we’re here let’s go out all guns blazing and lets have fun along the way. Let’s create some awesome memories and have some good times.”