Changing Planet

“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.)

china-elephant-man-photo-2.jpg

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

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David 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. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs 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. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn
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    I’m astonished to see this elephant man.I can’t accept it,but know that it’s true.Thanks for sharing it,Keep blogging.
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  • JAMES IN FLORIDA

    GOD BLESS YOU HUANG YOUR IN MY PRAYERS I HAVE A SON YOUR AGE AND WE BOTH HAVE FOLLOWED YOUR STORY WE PRAY FOR YOU ALWAYS AND WISH YOU AND YOUR FAMILY THE BEST OF LUCK GOD BLESS YOU ALWAYS JAMES AND JUSTIN CUNNIEN IN FLORIDA USA

  • Matthew

    Is there an update to this man’s story? I would like to know if they removed all the tumors. All the video that I’ve seen shows that they only got about fourth of the way done.

  • lisa

    I just watched Huangs story, i cant find an update on his operations, i pray everything went well, god bless you Huang and your family.

  • sean pope

    just… wow. amazing strenght that guy and his family have. hope for the best.

  • Kerry

    my heart bleeds for this man and his family. any update on the current state. have the other ops been done. i cant seem to find an update

  • Monique

    My son and I just saw Huang’s story and he asked me how Huang is doing now. I can’t seem to find anything on how his recovery and his live is now. Did they do further surgery?

  • Sweet Pea

    As of 4/23/13, I have not been able to find an update on Huang progress. I cant get him and his family out of my mind. It isnt God’s intention that we suffer. Out of love He created us perfect. I hope and pray that Huang was able to have the other surgeries and live a better life.

  • John Noonan

    i wish him the best, it brought tears to my eyes. Any further updates?

    John

  • Meg

    How is doing now? Did he have anymore operations?

  • Verone

    Remarkable strength and courage. My prayers go out to Huang and his family. I pray the second operation went well. Does anyone know?

  • Becky Yu

    I would like an update
    I just think he is so uncomfortable and have lived in China many years. I know what great difficulty this is for Huang and his family

  • Pamela Kurzawa

    Dear Friend, I saw your documentary last evening for you first surgery. You are such an inspiration to me and I wanted you to know that I am thinking of you and pulling for you all the way. You are my hero and I pray that everything will turn out for you and your dream of traveling the world some day will come ture.

  • TEANA

    I AM IN AWE OF THIS MAN AND HIS AMAZING STRENGTH. YOU HANG IN THERE MY FRIEND AS I HAVE 2tu DAUGHTERS WITH THIS SAME ILLNESS MY HEART, THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS ARE ALWAYS WITH YOU WHERE EVER YOU GO
    IN LIFE

  • TEANA

    I AM IN AWE OF THIS MAN AND THE STRENGTH HE HAS TO HAVE A NORNAL LIFE… HE IS FROEVER IN MY HEART, THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS.. AS I HAVE 2 DAUGHTERS WITH THIS SAME ILLNESS I KNOW THE PERSONALLY THE STRUGGLES YOU FACE ON AN EVERYDAY LEVEL… NEVER GIVE UP ON HOPE AND JOY BECAUSE ITS OUT THERE WAITING FOR YOU TO SMILE AND ENJOY LIFE..AS I WILL ALWAYS FOLLOW YOUR STORY KNOW THAT YOU HAVE A TON OF SUPPORT RIGHT IN HERE IN THE USA

  • stephen cotton

    i am praying for huangs full recovery and strength for his family i would like to send his family money to help them please let me know how i can get the money to them thanks

  • kevin

    Instead of all these costly operations they should just euthanasia this guy. I mean what use is he? He cant work and will never be able to live on his own. What he should do is join a curcus and get paid. This way he could at least make some money instead of handouts. Does anyone agree?. If that were me i would have killed myself long ago!!

  • Donna Garcia

    I saw the documentery on this young man. What a brave courageous person he is. It makes me ashamed of myself when I complain about frivilious things. He lives in poverty.
    I wish him and his family only good things.
    Donna In Texas

  • Trishia

    To Kevin,
    you should be ashamed of yourself. You make me sick.
    How dare you type such hideous words.

  • Emma Smith

    This story is so inspiring, this man deserves a full recovery! Where can I see updates on him and his condition?

  • Dianna

    To KEVIN
    You have no heart for people in this world, by this time I hope you have changed your mind because what by chance you were born like this? I really don’t think you would have the guts to do what you said you would do? The Lord Blesses all of us that wait and Huang and his family hung in there, would you ever do that for a family member? I would? Please don’t prejudge people in the world, no one deserves it, not even You!

  • Virginia Williams

    My husband and I watched a re-run of Huang’s story last night. It is so sad that nobody in the “modern world” noticed this tumor 20 years ago; before it grew so big. Maybe then, his prognosis would have been better. Being ridiculed at school and isolated at home is heartbreaking.

    I wish that natgeo.com would post an update. I only get error messages when I try the links above. Please provide an update on Huang’s current condition. Thank you.

  • Geri

    This is something that most people could not survive what this young man has gone thru. Most of us feel for the most part that we are living a normal life, but what about those that just don’t understand why they are born the way they are and will never understand why. Only GOD knows and I humble myself to these children and adults that are going thru this life with the things they have to deal with and the abnormalities. I have a handicap brother who is 48 years old and he lives a very normal life. When I seen this young man, the tears just fell. My heart goes out to him and his family and I pray that he can have as much as a normal life that he can. He realizes how precious life is, most of us do not. Keep this family in your prayers. We are all HUMAN BEINGS.

  • Michelle Lowe

    Anyone who posts negative comments about this man or any individual who has a disfigurement or an abnormality which tends to isolate them, is a person in alot of pain themselves. However, just because you are in pain doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences to your lack of love.
    Let us continue to pray for Huang, his family and other people who have had to live with a disfigurement. One thing I have noticed is that if it weren’t for Huang’s loving family he indeed may not have made it this far. Love is the key. It goes so deep, we cannot even fathom the hope it brings in the most seemingly dark situations.
    May God bless and keep you Huang, and I pray your future operations improve your quality of life considerably. Geri from London who commented that this young man seems to appreciate life, whereas most of us do not, is very intuitive.

  • D

    What an amazing story. This man is truly a hero and has taught doctors and people all over the world .I pray for him and for his family.

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