Indonesian ‘Tree Man’ trapped in his mutating body

Dede Koswara has a rare condition that makes his body sprout strange root and bark-like warts that have earned him the nickname Tree Man. Here he is seen with his father Ateng and mother Engkar. (John Glionna, Los Angeles Times / July 15, 2010)

“For years, the slender construction worker watched helplessly as his limbs broke out in a swath of grotesque bark-like warts that sapped his energy and limited his mobility.His mysterious ailment cost him his marriage, career and independence. Begging for coins, he ended up in a traveling freak show, enduring stares, known as the Tree Man of Java.

I’d never seen anything like it under all those warts was the outline of a human being,” said Anthony Gaspari, chairman of the department of dermatology at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine, who traveled here to examine Koswara. Working with local doctors, he designed a drug treatment program. Last year, Indonesian surgeons used an electric saw to cut 13 pounds of warts and decaying matter.

The results were astounding. For the first time in a decade, Koswara could make out his toes and fingers. Once again able to hold a pen, he began playing Sudoku and pecked out text messages on a cellphone. There was even talk about returning to work.

But complications developed when Koswara fell victim to a medical turf battle. Indonesian health officials suspected Gaspari of taking blood and tissue samples abroad without authorization to use them for commercial purposes. Although Gaspari later smoothed over the misunderstanding, he has since left the medical team.”

John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times


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