A British teenager with an inherited genetic disorder that has made her look middle-aged practically since she was a child says she is thrilled with the results of a pioneering facelift. Zara Hartshorn, 16, from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, was given a free facelift after a doctor heard of her condition, and she said the results have given her a new lease on life.

Hartshorn has endured a lifetime of being picked on and mistaken for someone twice her age due to an extremely rare genetic condition called cutis laxa. The University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Human Genetics defines it as “a disease of prematurely loose, redundant, inelastic and wrinkled skin.” In addition to causing loose skin, cutis laxa can also cause heart and lung problems, and weaken joints.

Hartshorn first showed symptoms of the disorder at the age of 4, with premature wrinkles and sagging skin. When other children began taunting her, calling her “monkey” and “granny,” her mother Tracey took her to doctors. They told her that Zara had inherited lipodystrophy (maldistribution of fat), a genetic disorder which Tracey had also been diagnosed with.

“Mum explained that I had an illness like she did, but that I was beautiful and shouldn't pay any attention to what anyone said,” Hartshorn told Britain’s Channel 5 in an interview. “The bullying was worst between the ages of eight and 10. Kids used to call me monkey and granny, and I was even beaten up just because of how I looked. It got so bad I stopped going for a while.”

In some particularly embarrassing incidents, Zara was mistaken for a teacher at her school, for her older sister’s mother, and even kicked off of a bus because officials did not believe she was a child. Last July, when Hartshorn revealed her condition in an interview with the Sunday People, she attracted the attention an expert, Dr. Abhimanyu Garg.

Garg flew Hartshorn to Austin, Texas, for a consultation, where through genetic testing he diagnosed both Zara and Tracey with cutis laxa, a condition even rarer than lipodsytrophy. After receiving the news, Hartshorn was offered a free facelift and rhinoplasty from Dr. Robert Ersek, an Austin plastic surgeon. It was an offer she said she couldn’t turn down.

“It was an amazing opportunity that I could never have dreamed of having before,” Hartshorn said. “I realized how life-changing it could be but I was still so ­nervous about how it would turn out. The night before the ­operation I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited. Four days after the ­surgery, when I had the bandages removed, I really didn’t like what I saw.”

“Everything was so swollen. I thought I’d made a huge mistake. But after nine days I had the nose cast removed and realized straight away how good it looked,” she said. “Now I love my nose. When I came back home everyone was telling me that I looked completely different. It felt great.” 

Although the plastic surgery won’t offer any help for her internal medical problems, Hartshorn said it’s given her the confidence to start a new life for herself.

“I’ve carried some hurtful comments with me all my life but now I feel ready to leave the past behind and forgive and forget,” Hartshorn said. “Before I had surgery I was picked on for looking different, now I look the same as other girls my age.”

“I don't feel like people are staring at me when I walk down the street anymore. I finally feel like a teenager,” she added.

A television documentary about Hartshorn's life will be released on Thursday. View a video interview with her below.