Nguyen Hieu Nghia looks 30 years older only three years after joining the army, but the strange phenomenon has nothing to do with military hardship.
People do not believe they are talking to a 23-year-old man when they meet Nghia, a former serviceman in the southernmost Vietnamese province of Ca Mau, as his face is now full of wrinkles.
Nghia was a young, fresh-faced man of twenty when he joined the military in early 2012, when he was assigned to a unit on duty near the sea, he told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
“Wrinkles began appearing on my face after just a few months, and I thought it was a kind of allergic reaction due to the change in the environment or the seafood,” he said.
But the bizarre phenomenon continued for a year, until Nghia was forced to travel to Ho Chi Minh City to see a doctor.
“They just told me they had no idea what disease it was,” he recalled.
“I still thought it would disappear some day but I in fact I became older and older.”
The wrinkles only appear on his face, mostly around his forehead and cheeks, while there is no abnormality with the rest of his body.
“Whenever I go out with my friends, the first thing they say is, ‘Hey, why you look so old?’ or ‘What’s wrong with your face?’,” Nghia said.
Most often the 23-year-old man would love to stay at home not to be bombarded with such questions, he admitted.
Besides the wrinkles, his fingers and toes have also grown abnormally large.
“I had to dump the shoes I bought when I joined the army because I am no longer able to put my feet in them,” he said.
“Doctors still say they do not know what’s wrong with me.
“I’ve even tried traditional herbal medicines, but they didn’t work.”
In 2011, Nguyen Thi Phuong, a then 26-year-old woman, also caught a mysterious disease and suffered a similar accelerated-aging syndrome.
The young woman in the southern province of Ben Tre morphed into an 80-year-old woman virtually overnight possibly due to mastocytosis.
Her strange disease grabbed international and local headlines, and Phuong later was also helped to receive treatment.
She died suddenly in August this year at the age of 30.