Fascinating Medical Tales
From miraculous survivals to bizarre
medical disorders, the medical world is crawling with astounding tales.
Here’s just a sampling of the many stories the medical community has to
Thimethylaminuria is a rare metabolic disorder that causes the
defect in a certain enzyme that breaks down trimethylamine, a compound
released by protein-digesting bacteria, living in our stomach.
Sufferers then begin to release the compound through their sweat, urine
and other bodily fluids. The result? A lingering body odor reminiscent
of rotten fish, thus earning the disease its more famous nickname ‘fish
odor syndrome.’ The bad news? The disease is incurable. The good news?
Aside from the odor, the disease has no other visible effect on the
body (not counting the psychological effect the disease inflicts upon
its victims), and the odor can be controlled by a low-protein diet that
limits the intake of choline, an amino acid that can cause the odor to
arise (although there has been cases where this didn’t have an effect
on the symptom).
In the William Shakespeare play
‘The Tempest,’ one of its characters, Caliban, the socially rejected
island dweller, exhibited symptoms of fish-odor syndrome, as evidenced
by the following lines: “What have we here? A man or a fish? Dead or
alive? He smells like a fish; a very ancient and fish-like smell …”
which may suggest that the disorder was known at that time. In reality,
the first recorded case of trimethylaminuria in medical literature
happened in the 1970’s.
Survived Rabies Without Vaccination
Jeanna Giese, of Fon du Lac, Wisconsin, defied medical odds by being
the first person to survive rabies without a vaccination in 2004. The,
then-15-year-old girl, got infected with the virus when she got bitten
by a bat, but since the wound she sustained was shallow, she didn’t
seek medical attention until thirty-seven days later, when the virus
began attacking her body. The disease then progressed so fast that by
the time she was admitted and diagnosed at the Children’s Hospital of
Wisconsin in Milwaukee, she was in a near-state coma. But instead of
giving up, Rodney Willoughby, an infectious disease specialist in the
hospital, decided to try a novel treatment on Giese to save her life.
The treatment involved giving her a cocktail of drugs that would induce
a coma, to preserve her brain from the virus. This was to give Giese’s
immune system time to fight the deadly disease, while giving her a
chance to survive. The risky treatment worked, however, and thirty-one
days later, she was declared rabies-free. Although the treatment left
Giese with some brain damage, the girl responded to rehabilitation
therapy and recovered quickly, much to the surprise of her doctors.
The experimental treatment that
was used to cure Giese, dubbed the Milwaukee Protocol, is now currently
under trial, and so far two patients out of twenty-five were cured.
However, there had been some controversies regarding Giese’s survival
under the treatment, one of which is that Giese was infected with a
weaker form of rabies, and that significantly affected her response to
Lizzie Velasquez of Austin, Texas, suffers from an extremely rare,
yet-to-be-diagnosed, disorder that prevents her from gaining weight. As
a result, she has almost zero body fat and she needs to eat a small
meal every fifteen minutes just to stay healthy. Also, the disorder
left her with a weakened immune system and blindness in one eye. Only
two other people in the world are known to have this bizarre syndrome,
which gave Velasquez a withered, skeletal appearance. Despite all of
this, the disease didn’t hamper Velasquez’s will to live. She is
currently studying communications at Texas State University, and lives
a very active life. She wants to be a motivational speaker, inspiring
others to live life to the fullest, as she does. She has written an
autobiography, to be released this September. “God made me the way I am
for a reason and I would never change that,” she writes. “I lead a
normal life as much as possible, and deal with the bumps in the road as
they come along, with my head held high and a smile on my face!”
In an effort to diagnose her
mystery condition, Velasquez has joined a genetic study run by
Professor Abhimanyu Garg of the University of Texas. Garg suspects
Velasquez may have a form of neonatal progeroid syndrome, which causes
“accelerated aging, fat loss from the face and body, and tissue
degeneration.” For more information,
visit Lizzie’s site
A 14-month old boy from Hunan, China, was born with a transverse
facial cleft crossing his face from ear to ear, dividing his face into
two parts, giving him the illusion that he’s wearing a mask. The cause
for the defect of the baby (named Kangkang) is still undetermined, but
an infection might be the culprit. Although the treatment to correct
the cleft is terribly expensive, Kangkang’s family were, fortunately,
able to come up with the 300-400,000 yen needed for the surgery.
Pictured above is a much milder form of the same illness.
Facial clefts are, comparatively,
rarer that cleft lips and palates, but they have similar origins: they
are caused by the incomplete fusing of the facial bones of babies
Three Babies from Two Wombs
Hannah Kersey of Northam, Devon, England, was born with uterus
didelphys, a malformation of the reproductive organs that resulted in
her having two wombs. In December 2006, Kersey defied odds of 25
million to one by giving birth to three healthy girls from her two
wombs. Identical twins Ruby and Tilly were delivered from one womb,
while Grace was delivered from the other. While simultaneous gestation
of the two wombs in women with uterus didelphys can happen (70 cases
were recorded), Kersey’s triplet birth was a medical first.
Women with uterus didelphys are
often asymptomatic, meaning they aren’t aware of their condition until
they are medically examined. In pregnancies of women with this
condition, premature birth is quite common. In Kersey’s case, the
triplets arrived seven weeks prematurely.
Ncise Cwayita, from South Africa, gave birth to a healthy 2.8
kilogram baby girl, despite the fact that she developed, not in her
mother’s womb, but in her liver. The strange pregnancy was thought to
be caused by the embryo falling out of the fallopian tube and attaching
itself to her liver (this is called extrauterine pregnancy). Since the
liver is a rich source of food for the embryo, it continued to gestate
as normal, as it is protected by the placenta. Although babies
developed out of the uterus often die within a few weeks, the baby
girl, named Nhlahla (‘luck’ in Zulu) appears to be perfectly healthy.
There have been only fourteen
documented cases of babies conceived in their mother’s liver. Of these
cases, only four survived the pregnancy (including Nhlahla).
After taking a ten-day course of Bactrim, a very common antibiotic,
to treat a sinus infection, Sarah Yeargain, from San Diego, California,
was shocked when her skin suddenly started sloughing off her body. ‘I
started to get some minor swelling and discoloration in my face and it
progressed into blistering on lips and swelling on my eyes. It then
progressed into blisters all over my face and chest and arms,’ Yeargain
said. Two days later, at the San Diego Regional Burn Center at the
University of California, she lost the skin on her entire body,
including her internal organs and the membranes on her eyes, mouth and
throat. Doctors gave her a slim chance of survival, but after covering
her entire body with transcyte, an artificial skin replacement, and
some medications to control the internal bleeding, Yeargain
miraculously recovered. Within a week later, her skin grew back. It is
thought that the cause of Yeargain’s dramatic skin loss is toxic
epidermal necrolysis, which basically is a severe allergic reaction to
the antibiotic she took.
Fans of the TV series ‘House,
M.D.’ might recall the second-to-the-last episode of Season 5 (entitled
‘Under My Skin’), where a patient exhibited toxic epidermal necrolysis
while under House and his medical team’s care.
In September 2008, 17-month old Nicholas Holderman, from Kentucky,
made an astonishingly fast recovery after a freak accident where the
toddler had a set of car keys impaled to his brain. The toddler was
playing with his two older brothers when he somehow fell upon the keys.
One of the keys pierced his eyelid and made it all the way to his
brain. The parents Staci and Chris, alerted by his scream, went
immediately to see what happened and were shocked by what they saw. The
mother immediately called 911, and Nicholas was helicoptered to a
medical unit. The medical team managed to remove the key successfully,
without damage to the brain, and although the eye was ruptured,
Nicholas’s eyesight was completely unaffected.
A quite similar but less severe
incident occurred at a restaurant in Minnesota on July 2007, where an
unnamed boy accidentally fell upon the fork he was holding.
Fortunately, the fork only went through and out of his nose, and it was
successfully removed with little damage to his face.
On July 12, 2002, 18-year old Marcos Parra was involved in a car
accident that left his skull literally separated from his cervical
spine, in a condition called internal decapitation. Only the ligaments
on his neck were connecting his head with his body, but his spinal cord
and arteries were intact. However, a medical team led by Dr. Curtis
Dickman (pictured above), a neurosurgeon at the St. Joseph’s Hospital
in Phoenix, Arizona, saved his life by performing a radical,
groundbreaking operation wherein two surgical screws were used to
fasten Parra’s head to his spine. Amazingly, the risky operation
worked, and Parra fully recovered. Since then, Dickman’s team has
successfully performed the same surgery on two other patients.
There is a similar story to this.
Ricky Barker was also internally decapitated after a 2004 accident
where the bike he was riding collided with a car. Three months later
however, Barker walked out of the hospital with only a paralyzed left
arm, a limp and a hole in his throat (so that he could breathe) to
remind him of the accident that almost took his life.
The girl who doesn’t age
Brooke Greenberg of Reisterstown, Maryland, has baffled the medical
world because of her mysterious condition. Brooke, who just turned
seventeen last January, still has the physical appearance and mental
capacity of a toddler. She is just 30 inches (76 cm) tall and weighs
around 16 pounds (7.3 kg) and her mental age is estimated to be about
the same as a 9 to 12 month-old child. She also hasn’t learned to speak
yet. Scientists, who have termed Brooke’s condition Syndrome X, believe
that her abnormality is caused by a defect in the genes that control
her body’s aging. “There’ve been very minimal changes in Brooke’s brain
… Various parts of her body, rather than all being at the same stage,
seem to be disconnected,” said Dr. Richard Walker of the University of
South Florida College of Medicine, of Brooke’s aging process. However,
scientists see Brooke’s condition as an opportunity for them to study
the mysterious process of aging. Walker, who has already published a
paper on Brooke’s disorder, said, “Our hypothesis is that she is
suffering from damage in the gene or genes that coordinate the way the
body develops and age. If we can use her DNA to find that mutant gene
then we can test it in laboratory animals to see if we can switch if
off and slow down the aging process at will. Just possibly it could
give us an opportunity to answer the question of why we are mortal.”
When specialists began decoding
Brooke’s DNA sequence, they found out that certain genes associated
with DNA repair were normal. Mutated copies of those genes are thought
to be responsible for ‘rapid aging’ disorders like progeria and Werner