Mermaid Syndrome - A Modern Medical Mystery

When you hear the term mermaid syndrome does your mind instantly go to children dreaming of being a mermaid? Pretending that they can grow a fin and swim amongst that fish and play with other merpeople? Would you believe that this condition actually refers to a rare and very fatal health issue? Also known as sirenomelia, this condition takes the life of children within days of birth. The medical community does not know how the disease came into being, what causes or how to prevent it.

Yes, in this day and age there is a condition that doctors can offer no explanation for. One could say that it is due to the rarity of the birth defect. It happens only in one out of every one hundred thousand births, which means it is less frequent the conjoined twins. Consider the fact that on average there are 133 million babies born each year. That number can be further broken down to 247 babies born every minute or four babies born each second. This means that out of all the babies that are born in a year statistically speaking 1,330 of them will be born a "mermaid."

What does it mean to be born with sirenomelia? Babies that are born with this syndrome are either missing their leg bones or their legs are fused together. There may or may not be feet present. If they are present they are fused together often resembling flippers. These babies are also born with numerous internal issues including kidney problems and abnormalities to the bladder, rectum and genitals. In many cases the child's lungs are also impaired. It is due to these abnormalities that most of the babies do not make it past their third or fourth day of life.

So what causes such a terrible syndrome? Oddly enough doctors don't know. They do speculate on possible causes such as poor prenatal health. They also think that illness during the pregnancy could possibly lead to the development of sirenomelia. Naturally the also feel that there could be a genetic predisposition to the condition. If they doctor's can't explain how or why it happens, it also means that they can't offer any tips on how to avoid it.

What the medical community does know is that if a baby is afflicted with the syndrome it can be detected with an ultrasound. If on ultrasound they do find that the baby is suffering from this condition they recommend terminating the pregnancy. This is not to say that each and every child that is born with the condition passes on in the first few days, there have been a few cases where children have lived for years. Typically these children have to undergo numerous surgeries for years in order for doctors to fix what they could not prevent. There is no guarantee that each surgery will be successful either. The separation of the legs can be three separate surgeries apart from the internal organ work that often needs to be done.

Many may wonder if there is a way to help the baby when it is still a fetus. Is it possible to manipulate the legs in utero in hopes that they baby will have less difficulty at birth and stand a better chance of survival. If doctors can perform heart surgeries on fetuses... can't they do something for these babies? These questions are the reason why mermaid syndrome is considered to be one of the greatest unsolved medical mysteries of today.

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