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Solution to perspiration has made 'Miss Rachel' sweat emotionally

Rachel LeGault is thrilled the Buffalo Sabres didn't make the playoffs this season.

The Amherst native grew up a huge fan, but now she can't stand to watch the team's games, and is happy the season ended as soon as it did.

That's because LeGault is the star of a commercial that airs over and over during Sabres games on MSG: She's "Miss Rachel," the young woman who used to sweat excessively.

"I feel so bad, but I root against the Sabres. I used to love hockey," LeGault, 25, a junior agent with a talent agency in Los Angeles, said in an interview.

Whenever the commercial familiar to even the most casual Sabres fan airs, LeGault said, people track her down through social media and leave annoying and disturbing messages.

LeGault said she thought she was recording a testimonial for the website of the doctor who performed the surgery, and she didn't know her full name would be used.

But Dr. Hratch L. Karamanoukian's wife and office manager, Karen, said that LeGault was well aware she was recording a television ad and that LeGault hadn't raised any concerns with their office.

"This commercial's been playing for years, and this is the first I'm hearing of this," Karen Karamanoukian said. "She's never called us once. Ever. Ever."

It's an emotionally complicated situation for LeGault.

She said her sweating problem had a crushing effect on her self-esteem and her quality of life throughout her childhood and teenage years.

So she said she agreed to record her testimonial because she wants to encourage other people with hyperhidrosis to get the help they need.

But she said the harassment and ridicule she has endured from viewers of the commercial has all but ruined her new life.

"I thought I was helping the doctor who saved my life. I thought I was helping people," LeGault said. "Instead, I just feel exploited."

LeGault said she can't remember a time when she didn't suffer from hyperhidrosis, which in her case was most severe on the palms of her hands.

Her mother, Jeanne, said classmates in nursery school didn't want to hold hands with her. When LeGault would put out her hands, you could see droplets of perspiration on the palms. This led to intense social anxiety for LeGault, who didn't want to touch anyone.

"It's awful. You know something's wrong with you, your entire life," said Rachel LeGault, who also blushed easily.

LeGault said she tried just about everything to try to stop the sweating: pills, electroshock therapy, special antiperspirants and Botox injected into the palms of her hands.

Nothing worked, until she heard about a surgical treatment, endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy. The procedure involved clipping the sympathetic nerve and also required collapsing her lungs one at a time to allow access to the nerve.

Karamanoukian, of the Center for Excessive Sweating in Amherst, performed the surgery on LeGault in November 2007. Her mother was in the room when she woke up.

"The first thing I said was, 'Touch my hands,' " LeGault said.

They were dry.

The University at Buffalo graduate said she's convinced that "Dr. K" "really, truly saved my life."

So that's why LeGault agreed to record a statement after the center called her in late 2008, though she insists she thought she was recording a testimonial that would be posted on the center's website.

LeGault said she was in recovery from sinus surgery, and still on painkillers, at the time she went in to record the segment.

"I just babbled away," she said.

LeGault said that she did sign a release form but that she doesn't know what it said.

"I was never told my full name would be all over TV," she said.

The Center for Excessive Sweating commercial airs regularly during Sabres games on MSG, seemingly half a dozen times per game.

In the ad, LeGault talks about teaching dance to children who recoiled at her sweaty palms.

The commercial, which began airing in early 2009, is mocked with glee in online forums populated by Sabres fans and on fake Twitter accounts such as "@Sweaty_MsRachel."

One line from the ad, in which LeGault recounts the reaction of her young dance students to her hyperhidrosis -- "Miss Rachel, your hands are wet!" -- is the source of her nickname.

The ad featuring LeGault replaced an earlier excessive-sweating commercial, starring former Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell, which was itself the object of derision.

Because the commercial uses her full name, LeGault said, people can easily track her down online through search engines and social media.

At first, LeGault said, she thought some of the people who wanted to be Facebook friends with her were interested in hearing more about the hyperhidrosis surgery. But she soon began receiving offensive messages from "sickos" who saw her on the commercial, a pattern that continues whenever the commercial airs in the Buffalo area.

To make matters worse, she added, "I've been threatened."

LeGault said she has sent two letters to the center, in 2010 and again in March 2011, requesting a copy of the release she signed. She said she hasn't received a response to the letters, and she recognizes she may not have a lot of legal options.

"What you agree to in a contract can be very binding on the parties who sign it," said Patrick J. Long, who teaches about contracts at the University at Buffalo Law School.

Long, speaking generally, said it's important to know what you're signing in a release and to keep a copy of the document.

LeGault and her mother say they want Karamanoukian's center to stop airing the ad or to remove her last name.

Karen Karamanoukian said her office hasn't received complaints about the ad from LeGault.

"She knew it was a commercial being taped for the Sabres," Karamanoukian said.

When asked why the center's TV commercial uses LeGault's full name, Karamanoukian said that decision was made by the Sabres because the team's employees produced the commercial for the center.

Sabres spokesman Michael M. Gilbert declined to comment on the release LeGault signed or on the decision to use her full name in the ad.

But Rachel LeGault has started trying to take control of the situation. She recently conducted an "Ask Me Anything" session on the website Reddit, and she agreed to this interview.

"I'm proud to be the face of a topic that really doesn't get discussed," she said.

But the cyberbullying over the TV commercial, she said, has tainted what was a life-changing operation:

"All I ever wanted was to be a normal person."