*Warning: Some readers may find the images disturbing.
For generations, the Indian caste system branded certain people Untouchable. While, in theory, that system no longer exists, it remained far too real for one family. Three sisters, all born to the same parents, developed a rare genetic disorder. Before them, there had only been 70 cases in history. Now, thanks to a revolutionary new surgery, the sisters are finally able to stand on their own two feet.
Born in the village of Bhadrak, located in eastern India, the three girls appeared normal at first. Twelve years ago, parents Padma Devi and Abhimanyu Sethi were overjoyed with the birth of beautiful Gitarani. However, around her first birthday, she began developing sores on her feet. They increased in size and eventually prevented Gitarani from wearing shoes or walking. Her parents had to carry her everywhere. Local doctors had no helpful suggestions and the sores started to sprout hard growths. Similar growths occurred on the girl’s hands.
Four years later, Abhimanyu and Padma welcomed twin daughters, Jamuna and Ganga. Tragically, the same itchy growths began to appear on their hands and feet as they approached their first birthday. By that time, the family’s neighbors had labeled all of them as polluted. Other children avoided Gitarani and her sisters. Neighbors refused to lend the family any cooking utensils, an otherwise common practice in the village. When people did visit, the children were locked in a separate room.
So the situation continued for seven years. During that whole time, the parents had to carry their children everywhere. Indeed, they carried them to over fifty doctors. None would help the children. A few offered expensive treatments, but they were beyond the means of the family, who lived on $3 per day. Finally, last month, they visited Cuttack City. There they met with a physician at Shrirama Chandra Bhanj Medical College. Dr. Bibhuti Bhushan Nayak examined the girls and diagnosed them with Olmstead Syndrome (OS). The genetic condition is incredibly rare and Dr. Nayak could not believe that unrelated parents could produce three children with the disorder. Classic signs of the condition include blindness, nail abnormalities, and the development of thickened keratotic plaques on feet and hands.
By the time Dr. Nayak operated, the growths on Gitarani’s feet were over 10 inches thick. He successfully removed all the growths from each child. They are recovering well and have been able to stand and walk for the first time. While additional recovery occurs, Dr. Nayak and other physicians around the world are watching closely. With only 73 cases in history, doctors are still learning about effective ways to treat the disorder and if the growths will reappear.