Joanne Day is the United Kingdom's "flamingo lady" no more.
Day has a rare condition called dystonia that caused her left leg to stay bent up toward her chest, forcing her to stand on one leg the way a flamingo does. But she recently had surgery to straighten out her leg, according to the Daily Mail newspaper
Dystonia is a neurological condition that causes involuntary muscle contractions and spasms. Day, 37, told the newspaper she had the operation because the pain became too unbearable, and infection had set in.
"It was a gamble but I knew I could not continue the way I was," Day said of the nine-hour operation.
She no longer suffers from debilitating pain, and after four years of living as the flamingo lady, she finally feels normal.
"This surgery has changed my life. It will make my life a lot easier. It is nice to look a bit more conventional," she said. "Skinny jeans were never an option before or fitted skirts and dresses -- I had to have clothes made for me. Now I can wear the clothes I want to wear."
An estimated 1 in 1,500 people in the U.K. (about 40,000) suffer from dystonia. The condition is somewhat more common in the United States. An estimated 1 in 1,000 Americans (about 300,000) have dystonia, according to the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation, which makes it more common than more well-know conditions such as cystic fibrosis.
There are about 13 forms of dystonia and, so far, there's no cure for the condition.
Art Kessler of Chicago, who has lived with the condition for years and was diagnosed when he was 10, is quite familiar with the contortions and the pain caused by dystonia.
"My foot turned in, and then it progressed to my leg, and then my other leg, then my arms and then my back," said Kessler, 42, who is the president of the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation.
"My back would arch, which would put a lot of pressure on my lower spine. It was painful to walk. I could stand up straight, but it looked like a had a board stuck up my back when I walked."
Kessler said he remembers being teased when he was a child.
"They called me names and stuff," he said. "Kids can be nasty. It was tough to deal with."
For people who suffer from other symptoms of dystonia, such as involuntary eye closures or a contorted neck, it's stigmatizing.
"The general public doesn't recognize dystonia," said Dr. Cynthia Comella, professor of neurological sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "These people are seen as odd or weird."