Stories Behind The World's Most Fascinating Rare Diseases.
Despite the best efforts of our immune systems, we all fall ill every now and then. With a bit of luck, rest, and with the benefit of insurance, we're usually back on our feet in a couple days.
Unless we've had the misfortune of contracting something... out of the ordinary.
Our bodies are extraordinarily good at repairing themselves. When we get a bruise, tear a muscle, strain a tendon, our bodies get to work repairing the damage. It may take a while, but eventually we're as good as new.
But what if your body replaced your tissue with something truly horrifying?
That's what happens to people with FOP. When their tissue is damaged, their bodies replace it, alright - but with bone. For them, a calf strain could lead to permanent immobility in their leg.
Worse, it sometimes doesn't even require damage to replace tissue with bone; in some patients, it just happens spontaneously. Typically, patients experience the onset of the disease before they turn ten.
The disease usually begins to spread high up on the body - the neck or chest - and then works its way down. Eventually, a person with FOP can find themselves virtually encased in their own bones, unable to move, making it difficult to speak or even eat.
Excessive build-up of bone around the ribcage can restrict the expansion of the lungs, and can make it almost impossible for FOP patients to breath.
FOP has been around for a long time, with cases reported as far back as the 1600s. But the most famous case is that of Harry Eastlack (1933-1973). Eastlack's case was so severe that, before he died, he was almost completely petrified, only able to move his lips.
He graciously donated his body to science, helping researchers as they work to find a cure for this dreadful but mercifully rare affliction.
Suppose you see a man walking down the street with his arm on fire. He's smiling, whistling, waving at passersby. Is he a stunt man? Is he insane? Or does he suffer from CIPA? (continued...)
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Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis (CIPA) is an inherited disorder that renders its victims incapable of feeling much of anything. Heat, cold, pain - any physical sensation perceived by a normally functioning nervous system just doesn't register with them.
As you can imagine, this causes serious problems. While we may not enjoy pain, it's useful for informing us when there's a problem. People with CIPA often suffer severe injuries that are easily avoidable for folks who feel pain. They seriously can, and do, severely burn themselves without even realizing it.
They also tend to let existing injuries fester because they simply don't notice them. Imagine walking around with a pelvic fracture because you didn't know it was there.
Those with CIPA are at particular risk of overheating. Not only are they unable to feel excessive heat, but their sweat glands also don't function normally due to nerve damage. Sadly, more than half of children with CIPA die from hyperthermia before the age of three.
On 8 January 1993, Melanie Greenberg gave birth to a baby girl named Brooke.
Melanie had been forced to undergo a c-section a month before her due date, so Brooke was on the small side. But apart from a few normal complications, she appeared to be a healthy child. It took her parents quite a while before they realized her body wasn't actually growing. At all.
Doctors were unable to explain exactly why. When Brooke's DNA was sequenced, they found no abnormalities in the genes associated with aging.
Brooke also experienced a number of strange medical incidents. On one occasion, doctors diagnosed her as having had a stroke. But when they performed follow-up tests, they found no evidence of any damage whatsoever.
At the age of five, Brooke fell into a deep two-week sleep as a result of what appeared to be a brain tumor. But when she finally awoke, doctors found no trace of the tumor at all. No explanation has ever been provided.
At a loss to explain the cause of Brooke Greenberg's inability to age, her condition was dubbed "Syndrome X".
Brooke passed away in 2013, but additional cases of Syndrome X have emerged. Nobody knows exactly what it is or why it happens.
Read about the Capgras Syndrome on the next page!
It's a long weekend. You decide to cook up some hamburgers, but you maybe don't leave them on the grill as long as you should. So you get a little food poisoning. No big deal. You're sick for a couple days, but you get it out of your system.
After a few nights sleeping on the bathroom floor, you're ready to go back to work. But that's when you notice a weird tingling sensation in your toes. That's weird, but not immediately worrying. It's easy to shake off the pins-and-needles sensation and press on with your day.
But when you get home from work that night, you realize that the tingling has begun to work its way up your legs. You're starting to get concerned, but you go to sleep hoping you'll feel better when you wake up. And when you wake up, you're in the hospital, unable to move.
That's the experience of Guillain-Barr Syndrome. What begins as a tinging sensation slowly creeps up your body and ends up as full-blown paralysis. Some patients even end up on ventilators because they're unable to breathe on their own.
But here's the good (and weird) thing: it's only temporary.
With proper treatment, the paralysis subsides, and the patient returns to normal. Guillain-Barr Syndrome wreaks havoc by turning your immune system against you, causing it to attack your nerves. But once your immune system goes back to normal, it's like it never happened.
Nobody really knows the cause of the syndrome. The only clue is that two-thirds of sufferers have had some kind of infection in the weeks prior - often food poisoning.
You meet up with an old friend at a coffee shop to catch up. She looks the same as you remember her; she sounds the same, her perfume smells the same. But deep in your heart you can just tell: something about her isn't right.
You start to think she's an imposter. Someone must have replaced your friend with a spy, or an agent, or a robotic replica. Come to think of it, everyone around you seems kind of suspicious. (continued...)
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Could it be that you're living in a real-life version of The Truman Show? Or could it be that you're suffering from the Capgras Delusion - the belief that people you know well are secretly imposters?
Take this doctor's notes on a patient who showed signs of the delusion:
"Mrs. D, a 74-year-old married housewife... received the diagnosis of psychosis because of her belief that her husband had been replaced by another unrelated man. She refused to sleep with him, locked her bedroom and door at night, asked her son for a gun, and finally fought with the police when attempts were made to hospitalise her."
Most people who suffer from the Capgras Delusion are paranoid or schizophrenic, although it has also been linked to diabetes, hypothyroidism, brain damage, and migraines.
Providing therapy to Capgras patients can be difficult because they will reject the therapist if they directly confront the delusion, while playing into it isn't helpful either.
Nobody knows what caused the Dancing Plague. Some theorize it was a side effect of poisoning; some that it was a result of brain inflammation; some say it was just a form of mass hysteria caused by cults. Whatever the cause, it swept through Europe between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries.
One of the first "outbreaks" was in the city of Aachen in 1374. Thousands of people - men, women, and children - spontaneously began to dance, and didn't stop until they collapsed from exhaustion. Some even broke their ribs and danced until they died.
Throughout the next two centuries, similar epidemics would occur throughout the continent, seemingly unrelated and not prompted by anything in particular. Dancers would flail about madly for days, or weeks, or even months.
A number of cures were tried, including exorcism, with mixed results. To this day, nobody has the faintest idea what this phenomenon was, or why it took hold. The best going theory is that Dancing Plague was a mass psychogenic illness - with similar physical symptoms in many individuals, but no actual medical cause.
Read about the one genetic disorder you might actually wish you had on the next page.
Let's look on the bright side, just for a moment. Here's a rare genetic condition that actually sounds pretty cool.
People with MH tend to have, by virtue of their condition, remarkably little body fat. As a trade-off, they have about twice the muscle mass as a normal person. On top of that, their muscle strength is off the charts, so even if they had only average muscle mass, they would still be unusually strong.
"But wait," you ask, "What horrible consequences accompany this otherwise perfectly beneficial disease? Surely they must pay a terrible price for all that muscle tone."
Nope. There are no known side effects, either physical or mental. You know, I think I feel a touch of Myotonic Hypertrophy coming on right now.
Okay, maybe not. Well, a guy can dream.
Diagnoses of the Cotard Delusion are few and far between. And that's a good thing, because the lens through which sufferers view themselves is extremely distorted.
Cotard patients are struck by one (or several) bizarre beliefs regarding their own existence. They typically believe that they are already dead, dont exist, or that certain parts of their body do not exist. This obviously makes it difficult for sufferers to interact with the outside world.
Heres a description of a man who was diagnosed with the Cotard Delusion in the 1990s. It illustrates how difficult it can be to help them recover:
"In January 1990, after his discharge from hospital in Edinburgh, his mother took him to South Africa. He was convinced that he had been taken to Hell… and that he had died of septicaemia… or perhaps from AIDS (he had read a story in The Scotsman about someone with AIDS who died from septicaemia)… He thought he had 'borrowed [his] mother's spirit to show [him] around hell'..."
The Cotard Delusion seems to be linked to brain damage - for example, the man described in that excerpt begin showing signs of the disorder after a motorcycle accident. Its also linked to depression, and schizophrenia. Generally, the only cure is antipsychotic medication or electroshock therapy.
Read about Foreign Accent Syndrome on the next page.
In 1941, during World War II, a Norwegian woman named Astrid was wounded with shrapnel during a raid by the German army. She recovered from her injuries, but there was a marked change in her behavior after the attack.
Although Astrid continued to speak Norwegian, her native language, she now did so with a pronounced German accent - despite the fact that she did not speak German, had never spoken German, and had never left Norway.
Her new accent made her somewhat unpopular with her neighbors, since the Germans had invaded Norway in 1940 and continued to occupy the country until 1945. She had trouble shopping because clerks heard her speak and assumed she was German. Nobody wanted to associate with her all of a sudden.
It wasnt until two years later that a neurologist named Georg Herman Monrad-Krohn had the chance to examine Astrid. Dr. Monrad-Krohn called Astrids bizarre condition dysprody. It is more commonly known now (although it is not at all common) as Foreign Accent Syndrome.
There are two subtypes of Foreign Accent Syndrome. The neurogenic type is the more frequent of the two. It includes people like Astrid, for whom the onset of the disease was preceded by some kind of traumatic injury. The psychogenic type is rarer, and encompasses cases where the accent is accompanied by some kind of mental disturbance.
An example of that second type is a case involving an American woman in her thirties who wound up in psychiatric care after attacking a woman whom she believed had cursed her using a voodoo doll. For some reason, she presented with what sounded like an English accent. This woman had a history of schizophrenia in her family, and was evidently experiencing some form of psychological distress herself.
Studies of the disorder have shown that its actually more complicated than it seems. Although it may sound like the person has acquired a regional accent over night, the truth is that only sounds that way. The real underlying problem is that the person has lost the mental ability to coordinate their speech. This leads to certain patterns in their enunciation that may sound like a specific foreign accent, or a combination of several.
Foreign Accent Syndrome is extremely rare. Since 1941, there have only been 62 documented cases.
If youre interested in meeting someone who has this syndrome, watch this video:
Breaking up is hard to do.
And when you get the law involved, it's even worse. But sometimes people don't need the law's help to make things overcomplicated, they just have a grand ole time making that happen themselves.
People on the front lines of human cruelty include divorce lawyers. These are their stories.