We've all grown up watching tales of the Little Mermaid, and have been enamored by Ariel's antics and life under the sea. However, it is hardly comforting to know that an innocent word like 'mermaid' can connote a deadly syndrome in human beings. Mermaid syndrome is a rare congenital disease that has an incidence of only 1 in 70,000 births. It is also known as sirenomelia, and is a congenital deformity, wherein, the baby is born with legs that are fused together, thus, giving the appearance of a mermaid's tail.
Although there hasn't been much research done to pin-point the exact cause of sirenomelia, there are a few conditions that have been implicated as the causes of this syndrome. They are given below:
- Any kind of major illness suffered by the expecting mother or the fetus during pregnancy
- Any kind of physical or mental stress on the expecting mother
- Some doctors even blame excessive exposure to radiation as one of the most likely causes of this condition. They claim that excessive radiation could lead to genetic mutational changes, which could cause fusion of the legs of the developing fetus.
- Inherited genetic disorders, either due to genes from the father or the mother
- Inadequate prenatal care
Unfortunately, besides surgery, there is no other treatment option for infants inflicted by mermaid syndrome. Sometimes, as in cases of severe condition, the legs are not fused superficially, but in fact share important structures and blood vessels. This makes surgery a very difficult, and near impossible alternative. In such cases, the child will most probably not survive a surgery, and even if miraculously it does make it through, he or she will terribly cripple for life.
Till date, there has been no successful instance of severe mermaid syndrome survivors. Tiffany Yorks, till today, is the oldest surviving sirenomelia baby, after a spate of multiple, successful surgeries. Another survivor is Milagros Cerron, who had a long and successful surgery, wherein doctors managed to separate the fused legs of the baby girl.
There isn't much information available about this dreadful syndrome. This is mostly because, the condition is so rare, that even today, there have been only two known survivors that were inflicted with this fatal condition. Initially, sirenomelia, was often mistaken for caudal regression syndrome, an equally rare condition, in which, there is abnormal fetal development of the lower spine.
There are certain grades of this syndrome seen, depending on the severity of the condition. In mild condition, the baby has two limbs that are fused into one, but this fusion is superficial, as it is only restricted to the skin. Thus, a simple surgery can help correct this deformity. However, in cases of severe condition, the extent of fusion can be very deep, with major structures being shared by the legs to such an extent that the two legs are not at all discernible. The crippling deformity manifests itself as a single, shapeless, ill-formed mass with only two bones present in the entire limb.
As rare as this condition may be, it is still heart wrenching to hear of such cases. So let us end with a prayer that this disease becomes rarer, so that every baby in the world is born healthy and happy. Amen.