Huang Chuncai: The Elephant Man of China

Huang ChuncaiThe oddities that afflict the human body never cease to amaze me. Take Huang Chuncai from China. A 33-pound tumor grew on his face, nearly obliterating his features. His left eye was completely covered and his left ear drooped down to his shoulder. The right side of his face was entirely engulfed. If you look closely, you can pick out how his face should look under all that skin.

Mr. Chuncai’s tumor first appeared when he was four years old. It grew steadily, his head puffing up like a balloon. One neighbor joked that his head was so big, he was destined to become a politician. He has almost lost his hearing and his speech is labored and hard to understand. At 25 the tumor knocked out his teeth. The weight of the mass has warped the spine of the diminutive, 4 ft 5 inch tall, man. He has not left his village of Yulan, in China’s southern province of Hunan, for the past 27 years.

Huang Chuncai in HospitalFree operations to remove the tumor were performed by the Fuda hospital in Guangzhou, southern China’s Guangdong province. The first surgery, in July 2007, removed a sizable section of the tumor. An ultrasound of Huang’s tumor showed it was swarming with blood vessels. Doctors performing needed to take care and stauch any bleeding. If not, Mr. Chuncai could bleed to death in two minutes. This past January, he underwent another operation to remove another section of the tumor.

Channel 4 BBC covered this story in the BodyShock series, drawing a tremendous viewing audience. The segment was titled “I am the Elephant Man.” The condition suffered by Chuncai, neurofibromatosis, is similar to Proteus syndrome,which afflicted Joseph Merrick the original Elephant Man. There is no cure for the Proteus syndrome, though they can be controlled through surgery. The condition is a congenital disorder that causes skin overgrowth and atypical bone development.

I’ve scoured the web for any information following Chuncai’s latest surgery, but I’ve found nothing. You can check up on the story at Channel 4’s BodyShock site.

Chris Kalidor

UPDATE: How is Huang Chuncai doing now?

10 Responses to “Huang Chuncai: The Elephant Man of China”

  1. Your article wrongly identifies NF as Elephant man disease. This is a common misconception. The “elephant man” had a disorder called Proteus Syndrome. Please check your facts before publishing information like this.
    It’s hurtful to people that suffer from NF, like my daughter.
    Thank you!!

  2. I just wanted to correct one thing – NF is not what the Elephant Man Joseph Merrick had – he had Proteus Syndrome.

  3. After reviewing the previous comments, I decided to edit the post. Originally, I had said:

    “The condition suffered by Chuncai, Neurofibromatosis, is the same as Joseph Merrick the original Elephant Man. There is no cure for the Neurofibromatosis, though they can be controlled through surgery. The condition is a genetic disorder of the nervous system that primarily affects the development and growth of neural cell tissues, according to the US National Institutes of Health. The disorder causes tumors to grow on nerves and produce skin changes and bone deformities.”

    Every site that I visited for this story listed the condition as Neurofibromatosis. I apologize for the error.

    Tim Kane

  4. Arne Breitsprecher Says:

    The wikipedia article about Joseph Merrick states that DNS-tests were done in 2003 with Merricks bones and hair and the tests confirmed that he suffered from proteus syndrome. But besides this there were indications referring to NF.

  5. […] this story in Fortean Magazine, I hunted the Internet for my original post, April 20. (Read the original post for Huang Chuncai’s full story.) By that time, Mr. Chuncai had already undergone the second […]

  6. […] Chuncai recovers after surgery – visits home After first writing about Huang Chuncai (April 20 and June 27) I had no idea how little information there was on this man. His first surgery is well […]

  7. all that i know is i hope and pray that the surgeons fix him and he will be a hansom young man and he will be alright

  8. Gene Ann McCarty Says:

    Is there any way to contact this young man and his family. I would like to help his family with a donation. I don’t have a lot of money but I would like to send him something.

  9. Well, its now 2010 and I was wondering if anyone heard or seen pictures of how Huang is doing? Has he had more surgeries? I know here in the US National Geographic is still show the original episodes of his first surgery. Would love to know how he is doing.

  10. I also would like to help. Any word as to how to do so?

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