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Turning Into A Human Statue: Stone Man Syndrome

Updated on January 13, 2017

Despite its appearance, the human body isn't very frail. It has the capability to heal itself and regenerate. The process certainly isn't fast, and that makes it appear as if it isn't working at all, but it is. It's always actively working. And we only notice it when something goes wrong.

The regenerative mechanism appears to be simple – if something is broken, heal it. But is that all there is? How would the body heal? How would it know what to do if we break a bone, bruise an ankle, or cut ourselves? We just assume that the body heals, that it knows what it's doing, and we don't go into the details of what it does. It regenerates tissue where tissue is needed, and bridges the bones where the bones are broken. It just happens because it is genetically coded to do so. But due to certain mutations, the regenerative ability of the body gets confused. And by confused, I mean that if you ever bump into something and bruise the muscles in your elbow, the body will heal it, but instead of regenerating the tissues and muscles, it will turn it into bone.

The condition is known as Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva (FOP), or more commonly known as the 'Stone man syndrome'. It is one of the scariest diseases known to man, with no cure currently known. Anyone having this will have to be treated like a costly piece of china, for a little bump could make them unable to move a part of their body for the rest of their life. This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the implication is true. Take a situation where you tripped and fell down and hurt your knee. It might not be anything major, just a small inflammation of the tissue that might give any person a hard time walking for a few days. But after this few days, the inflammation goes down and the knee becomes just like it was before. It heals. That's what happens usually. But for those who suffer from this disorder, the few days when the body 'heals', it makes it worse. Instead of healing the inflammation, it grows it into a bone.

Any doctor that is unfamiliar with this might try to remove it through surgery. It might seem like just an abnormal growth that can be removed, and everything will back to normal. But in this case, the surgery itself becomes a trigger that more bone growth. Surgery technically consists of intentional cutting that is supposed to heal once the surgery is completed. And when the process of healing itself is damaging, surgery can only make it worse. You cut off a part of a bone and hurt the neighboring tissues, it grows into an even bigger bone. But then surgery is not the only thing that can trigger such growth, even something as common as an intramuscular injection, flu or a routine visit to the dentist can aid in the formation of the second skeleton. Stone man syndrome is a disease that makes even a small medical condition, a life-threatening issue.

The disease starts early in life, and without much trigger, progresses slowly. The few clues that give away the ill-humoured surprise of this disease are skeletal abnormalities such as malformed toes and abnormal lumps on the back. They may seem to make sense in retrospect, but may not be as obvious to make a connection until the damage is already done. One day you might wake up unable to move your legs, and the after a month, you couldn't even move your jaw. And maybe one day, you might not be able to move any significant parts of the body and may be stuck in any given position for the rest of your life. You may feel like a soul stuck inside an immovable body. Growing of extra bones in arms and legs make mobility hard, and growing bones in jaws and ribs makes it hard to eat and breathe. The only medication currently used are painkillers to relieve the pain.

This is one of the many rare diseases which has no cure, but the research is steadily progressing. Till then those suffering from it only find hope in the ongoing clinical trials and support groups that have been established for them.

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