Described as “China’s Elephant Man,” 37-year-old Huang Chucai has lived most of his life with one of the most severe cases on record, of a rare genetic disorder known as neurofibromatosis. Massive tumors associated with his condition have left his face grotesquely deformed, stunted his growth, left his bones undeveloped, caused his spine to buckle and have restricted his breathing.
In 2007 and 2008, Huang underwent operations whereby surgeons removed a 33-pound tumor from his face. This past Wednesday, on Christmas Day, doctors removed over 3 lbs of a tumor from his left cheek.
The Mayo Clinic defines neurofibromatosis as a genetic disorder that disturbs cell growth in the nervous system, causing tumors to form on nerve tissue including the brain and spinal chord. The tumors are usually benign and people with the condition often experience only mild symptoms. However possible effects of neurofibromatosis range from hearing loss, learning impairment, and heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) complications to severe disability due to nerve compression by tumors, loss of vision and severe pain.
In the case of Huang Chucai, tumors began showing up noticeably by the time he was 4-years-old. By age 25, all of his teeth had fallen out making it extremely difficult for him to eat and talk. The size and severity of his tumors eventually led to a deformity of his backbone, leaving him in a constant state of pain.
The Daily Mail reports that Huang incurred tremendous emotional damage throughout the years. He dropped out of school at the age of 10 due to his classmates’ relentless torment. Moreover, his parents were at one time approached and asked to sell their son to a circus to be part of a “Freak Show.” They declined.
Fortunately, the Christmas surgery was reportedly successful and Huang now faces the possibility of two more operations in order to get his condition under control.