“Elephant Man” undergoes removal of huge facial tumors

Huang Chuncai suffers from an extreme condition that has grotesquely deformed his face. It’s an affliction that has caused him to be called “China’s Elephant Man.”

Exceptionally large tumors have stunted his growth, left his bones undeveloped, caused his spine to buckle and restricted his breathing–a life-crippling condition that has prevented Huang from leaving his small village, according to our National Geographic Channel, which has been airing Huang’s story in the United States. (Full details on NGC’s China’s Elephant Man website.)


Photo courtesy of NGC

Burdened with one of the world’s most extreme cases of neurofibromatosis (NF), Huang’s face was covered with massive tumors weighing a total of 50 pounds.

The Channel documentary followed Huang and the surgery he received to alleviate some of his suffering. Watch this video excerpt:

Huang is healing very well from his last surgery, NGC reports in an update on its website. “Doctors hope that he will be ready for his next operation within the next six months.”

Risks of next operation

There are two main risks that accompany the next operation: the position of the tumor and blood loss. NGC adds. “The tumor is currently positioned against his brain, making it difficult for doctors to perform the surgery. Due to the nature of neurofibromatosis, the tumor is clustered in several locations, like bundle of grapes, throughout his flesh.”

“The risk of rapid blood loss also poses a complicated problem. Because neurofibromatosis grows in clusters, the area where it is concentrated needs a lot of blood, and the veins correspondingly expand to serve it. These can become enormous-several inches thick-and if accidentally cut, would result in rapid blood loss”.

Professor Xu, who has treated five other neurofibromatosis cases, says because the size of the portion of the tumor they intend to remove is slightly smaller than the last two operations, it should not necessarily be any more dangerous, NGC continues.

“Plastic surgery may or may not be feasible: Each operation causes great strains on the body, and Xu would need to determine how Huang’s body reacts to the surgeries before moving ahead. Xu believes Huang will need at least three weeks to recover in the hospital after his next operation,” NGC says.

Read more and continue to follow updates about Huang on the National Geographic Channel Web site.

“China’s Elephant Man” airs again in the U.S. on April 10, 2010

How you can help:

For further information regarding NF and ways you can help:
Neurofibromatosis, Inc
Children’s Tumor Foundation
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Changing Planet

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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn