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Huang Chuncai: The Elephant Man of China

Posted in Rotten with tags , , on April 20, 2008 by davehurwitz

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?