A MUSSELBURGH beauty contestant who suffers from chronic illnesses has launched a kind-hearted project to brighten up the lives of others living with health conditions.

Nicole Gray, 23, from the Stoneybank area, has already been crowned Miss East Lothian Galaxy after getting through the early stages of the competition.

She is now set to compete for the Miss Galaxy Scotland title at Preston on March 10 against 29 other contestants. If she wins, she will be bound for Orlando in the USA for the international Miss Galaxy beauty pageant in August.

Nicole has set up ‘Send A Smile Care Packages’, which has already cheered up nearly 40 people UK-wide who have chronic illness, disabilities and mental health conditions, after receiving £270 in donations from well-wishers on her GoFundMe page via Facebook.

She said: “I decided to use my role as Miss East Lothian Galaxy 2016/17 to start the project up. It gave me incentive as I am trying to use my title to help other people and, as chronic illness is my platform for pageantry, I feel this is the perfect project.”

Nicole herself suffers from severe asthma, anaphylaxis – which is a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction to a trigger such as an allergy – seizures and a vomiting condition which means she has to use a feeding tube as she can’t keep food down.

She said: “My brain sends the wrong signals to my stomach. Instead of my brain telling my stomach to digest food, it sends out an alert to my body that what I’ve ingested is harmful and my body needs to get rid of it. Essentially, my stomach hits the eject button and I’m sick very shortly after ingesting things.

“It started in March 2015 and since then I have vomited every single day after everything I’ve eaten and most things I drink. After three weeks of no nutrition and very limited fluid intake, it was decided they’d try a nasogastric tube.

“The tube goes into my nose, down my throat and into my stomach. I still have to attempt to eat orally, despite it always making me violently sick. As I can’t keep the food down, I don’t absorb the nutrients from it and also don’t absorb the calories, so I am tube-fed overnight.”

She added: “I will be competing in the Miss Galaxy Scotland grand final with the tube in situ.

“I feel this will not only help improve my confidence, it will also change people’s views on what is viewed as beautiful. It will show that even people with visible and invisible chronic illnesses and disabilities can be beautiful too.

“It will also show others suffering with an illness or disability that it doesn’t have to hold you back and that you can achieve things. I always say don’t concentrate on what you can’t do, find what you can do.

“As someone who suffers with various chronic illnesses, I know how isolating and difficult it can be.

“To receive something nice through the post, rather than notification of hospital appointments, can brighten up your day.”

More than 70 people have applied for packages from all over the UK. They contain generic items such as cosy socks, pens, pencils, stickers, chocolates and sweets.

But Nicole, who is studying for a degree in health sciences with the Open University, likes to personalise the gifts to match someone’s interests. She is keen to keep the project going as long as possible, saying: “This is something I enjoy doing and it keeps me busy. To get the thank you messages from people who have received packages is lovely.”

To support Nicole’s project, visit nicolegray2294.wixsite.com/senda smilecare Send a message to her via her Instagram account @sendasmilecare or the facebook page www.face book.com/sendasmilecare where there is also a GoFundMe page for donations.

People are asked for: their name; age; address; chronic illness/disability/mental health issue; favourite colour/s; likes/hobbies; dislikes; allergies; special dietary requirements.