*Be advised that some readers may find the images below disturbing.
A few days ago, a farmer’s wife in Nagpur, India gave birth to a baby girl who suffers from an incredibly rare genetic mutation. The unnamed family’s newest member has Harlequin-type ichthyosis, a disease that causes a person to be born without normal skin. In place of flexible skin are a series of hardened plates, similar to armor, that cover the baby’s body. This armored flesh is thickened hyperkeratosis. Whereas a child born without the disease has skin folds, a Harlequin baby, which gets its nickname because its ‘armor’ is diamond shaped, simply has cracks that expose the internal organs.
In addition to lacking regular skin, the prematurely born girl weighed only 2.6 pounds at birth. She is completely blind. Rather than eyes, that location on her face has two red bulges and one inside out eyelid. There are two small holes in the armor where her nose should be. Her mouth is flipped inside out, as well. She also has a full head of black hair. A team of specialist pediatricians based at Lata Mangeshkar Medical College and Hospital, including Dr. Nilofar Mujawar, have been with the child since her birth. They are monitoring her situation and providing a constant supply of moisture to her hardened skin. While they are unsure of her long-term prognosis, they have stressed that the first few weeks are critical in treating this disease. With a constant application of moisture, it is possible for the thickened, armor plate skin to fall off. While the removal of the thickened skin brings its own set of complications, it allows a newborn to develop cranial and lung capacity, which are restricted by the armor plates.
Most children born with this condition do not survive. In many cases, routine prenatal ultrasounds and tests detect the issue early in the pregnancy. In those situations, physicians usually recommend early termination. In the case of the Nagpur child, the family was too poor to afford the prenatal exams. However, thanks to advances in medical care, there have been success stories involving people born with this condition. The most famous survivor is Nusrit Shaheen, nicknamed Nelly. Born in Pakistan, she now lives in England and is 32 years old, making her the longest living person ever afflicted with Harlequin Ichthyosis. The first recorded case of the disease occurred in the state of South Carolina, United States in 1750. Roughly a dozen cases of the disease have been reported since then. An urban legend contends that the inventor of the squeeze toy, Panic Pete, was a physician who delivered a child with the skin condition who provided the inspiration for the toy’s color appearance.