The catalog of medical oddities, miraculous recoveries, open questions and unsolved mysteries is so complex and fascinating, that millions of books and articles have been written.
While oddities are not particularly desirable, miracles make us happy and strengthen our faith. Unfortunately, many medical mysteries remain unsolved. They are similar to an intriguing puzzle, but with most of the pieces missing. They make us realize how much we still need to learn about something we thought we knew so well: the human body. Here is my Top 10 list of medical shocking stories that are both captivating and unbelievable.
10. Polish Railroad Worker Wakes Up From 19-Year Coma
During the 1980’s, Poland was still run by a Communist regime. It was a terrible period of despair, great poverty and confusion.
Polish railway worker Jan Grzebski, suffered a severe head injury while attaching two train carriages. He was rushed to the hospital, but the doctors had even more devastating news for the family: besides the injuries caused by the work-related accident, Jan Grzebski was suffering from brain cancer. He fell into a deep coma of 19 years. Doctors didn’t expect him to live longer than three years. His family had faith that Jan would recover and his wife Gertruda provided the loving care Jan needed to survive. The amazing part of this story is that Mr. Grzebski awoke on April, 12, 2007 after 19 years of coma. He awoke to a world of democracy and capitalism. Mr. Grzebski was surprised to find out that 18 years had passed since the fall of Communism and that 11 grandchildren couldn’t wait to hug him. “What amazes me today is all these people who walk around with their mobile phones and never stop moaning,” he said. “I’ve got nothing to complain about.” This memorable statement is the perfect reminder to all of us who sometimes are complaining too much. Sadly, we often don’t appreciate the simple things in life until they’re taken away from us.
9. Children with the Werewolf Syndrome
Indian boy Prithviraj Patil and Thai girl Supatra Sasuphan have dreams and behave just like other children around the world: they love to be included in activities and games; they enjoy swimming or painting, and most of all, eating ice-cream. What makes them different is the fact that both children were born with congenital hypertrichosis, known also as the Werewolf Syndrome.
This terrible disease is very rare and unusual. There have been fewer than 50 cases documented since 1638. The children are suffering from uncontrollable hair growth. Thick animal-like fur covers their head and parts of the body. Unfortunately, science and medicine haven’t found an answer for their disease.
It’s so sad to read headlines such as “Half human, half wolf” or “Real Wolf Kids”. The cruelty doesn’t come from the syndrome, but from society…
8. Amazing Human Electrical Conductor
Some people attracted worldwide attention by claiming they can harness the power of electricity. Jose Rafael Marquez Ayala is one of them. Puerto Rican Jose Ayala seems to be a human superconductor, because he can carry huge amounts of electrical current through his body. Jose withstood various strong electric shocks with absolutely no side effects. Moreover, he burns paper with his fingers. Is his power real, or a hoax? If it is real, it is certainly amazing!
7. Miraculous Recovery After a 47-Story Fall
According to the NY Daily News, the Moreno brothers, Alcides and Edgar, were working on a window-washing platform attached to a skyscraper on E. 66th St., New York, when the platform collapsed on December 7, 2007. The 16-foot-long aluminum swing to the roof failed. Alcides Moreno cheated death after falling from the 47th story of the building, but Edgar didn’t survive.
The doctors performed at least 16 surgeries, because Moreno broke his ribs, both legs and right arm, badly injuring the spine. The medical staff described the victim’s recovery as “miraculous” and “unprecedented.” Doctors predicted that Moreno’s recovery would be complete in one, two years.
6. Teen Survives 118 Days Without A Heart
D’zhana Simmons of South Carolina is literally a walking, talking, medical miracle. The brave teenager lived for about four months without a heart, as she awaited a new, functional heart to replace the damaged one. Simmons suffered from dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), meaning her weak and enlarged heart wasn’t pumping blood efficiently. The surgeons from the Miami Holtz Children’s Hospital performed an initial transplant on July 2, 2008, but the heart malfunctioned and had to be quickly removed. Meanwhile, D’zhana was kept alive by a custom-built artificial blood-pumping device. “She essentially lived for 118 days without a heart, with her circulation supported only by two blood pumps,” said Dr. Ricci, Director of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery.
5. A Life Without Pain
Gabby Gingras is an energetic 9-year-old girl who is determined to be just like every other child around her. What makes her different from most of us, is a rare and extremely unusual disease known as CIPA – congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis. There are only 100 documented cases of CIPA around the globe.
Gabby was born without the ability to feel pain, cold and heat. It might seem like an amazing gift, but actually it’s a devastating condition. Pain sensitivity is crucial, because pain works similar to a warning and defense mechanism. Gabby’s parents noticed something wasn’t right when their daughter was five months old. She was biting her fingers until they bled. Later on, the girl lost an eye and severely injured the other one due to excessive rubbing and scratching. Various measures have been taken to prevent these types of accidents. The desperate parents are doing their best under the difficult and challenging circumstances. Brave Gabby was the subject of a documentary. “A Life Without Pain” by Melody Gilbert. It tells the powerful story of Gabby Gingras.
4. Allergic to H20
Whether it’s taking a hot bath, brushing your teeth, cleaning the house, or simply quenching your thirst, water is an essential part of our daily routine. We just cannot live without water! That is why it is a wonder to us that people can be allergic to water. Believe it or not, some people suffer from extremely rare physical forms of urticaria known as Aquagenic Urticaria and Aquagenic Pruritus – both of which are ‘allergic’ reactions to water. They are so unusual, that only about 30 or 40 cases are documented worldwide.
Ashleigh Morris (21, Australia) and Michaela Dutton (23, England) developed a one in 230 million skin disorder – Aquagenic Urticaria. If their skin comes in to contact with water, itchy red welts, lumps and blisters appear all over the body. Showering is a really painful experience for both of them. Michaela cannot drink water, coffee or tea, she cannot even eat fruits because they trigger the burning rash on the skin and make her throat swell up, but her body seems to tolerate Diet Coke. Ashleigh tries to avoid water as much as possible – she stopped doing sports and any other physical effort that makes her sweat. Aquagenic Urticaria is so extremely rare, that even doctors don’t fully understand the complex mechanism behind the bizarre skin disorder.
3. The Family That Couldn’t Sleep
FFI is the acronym of a fatal genetic sleep disorder called Fatal Familial Insomnia. Jay Schadler and Laura Viddy best describe the rare disease: “Those affected by FFI are forever trying and failing to fall asleep. The disease steals one’s sleep, mind and ultimately one’s life, and, before dying, one hovers for months in a twilight world.”
29-year-old Cheryl Dinges (left) is one of the members of a family that couldn’t sleep. Her family carries the gene for Fatal Familial Insomnia, such a rare condition that it is believed to affect only 40 families worldwide. Fatal Familial Insomnia killed their mother, grandfather and their uncle. Cheryl Dinges declined to be tested, even if her sister (right) didn’t inherit the mutation. FFI begins with mild twitching, panic attacks and insomnia. In time, patients start to hallucinate and insomnia becomes so severe that they totally lack the ability to sleep. Ultimately, patients develop dementia and, eventually, die. The mutated protein is called PrPSc. If only one of the parents has the mutated gene, there are 50% chances of inheriting and developing FFI.
2. Butterfly Children
The sad story of Sarah and Joshua Thurmond started when doctors diagnosed them with Epidermolysis bullosa (EB), another rare genetic disorder that cause the skin to be extremely fragile. Erosions and blisters occur because the skin layers lack a fibrous protein that is responsible for anchoring filaments to underlying tissues.
Joshua suffers from one of the most severe types of EB, Epidermolysis bullosa dystrophica. Unfortunately, his sister too, but she passed away on Oct. 8, 2009. The disease took her at the age of 20. According to medical studies, people born with EB have a life expectancy of about 30, maximum 40 years.
“Cotton Wool Babies”, “Crystal Skin Children” or “Butterfly Children” are the terms often used to describe the fragile condition of younger patients. Their skin is as fragile as a butterfly’s wings. The slightest rub can cause painful wounds. Brave Sarah and Joshua learned to live with extreme and constant pain. Special bandages help lessen the pain and prevent infections, but currently, there is no cure for EB. Even if these children will never know what it’s like to run, swim or jump.
1. Giving Birth to a Mummy
Zahra Aboutalib, from Morocco, delivered a child she’d been carrying for almost half a century. This shocking yet fascinating story began in 1955 when Zahra went into labor. She was rushed to a hospital, but after watching a woman dying on the operation table during a Caesarean section, Zahra fled back in her small village outside Casablanca. After the pains were gone and the baby stopped kicking, Zahra considered him a “sleeping baby”. “Sleeping babies” are, according to Moroccan folk belief, babies that can live inside a woman’s womb to protect her honor.
When Zahra was 75, the excruciating pains occurred again. Doctors performed an ultrasound test and discovered that her “sleeping child” was actually an ectopic pregnancy. What is even more amazing is how Zahra survived and how the dead fetus was accepted by the body just like another organ. Generally, this doesn’t happen. If not discovered in time, the growing fetus will eventually strain and burst the organ that contains it. Under these circumstances, the mother has few surviving chances. After nearly five hours, the surgeons successfully removed Zahra’s calcified fetus.
Stone babies, lithopedions, are an extremely rare medical phenomenon. According to the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, only 290 cases of stone babies have been documented.