The Incredible Yet Disturbing Blue Skinned Clan from Kentucky
In 1820, a young orphan by the name of Martin Fugate traveled from France to a small and secluded area in the Appalachian hills of Kentucky. He married a young woman in due time, and they had a large family which became firmly established in the area. At first glance, it sounds like a common American success story, and it certainly is, but in this case, there is a fascinating twist: by all records and indications, Martin Fugate had blue skin.
This does not refer to a very pale complexion or a slight hint of blue brought around by ill-health. Martin Fugate had skin that was decidedly blue in color, and one of his descendants boasted skin that was practically purple.
The Fugates were well-known in their area, and in time, they married into the other families of their region, which came to be known as Troublesome Creek. Some of the families that they married into included the Combses, the Ritchies and the Stacys, and many of the unions produced a large number of offspring.
Where did the blue tint to their skin come from? What occurred to create this fascinating variation on human skin?
In the first place, the condition was traced to a condition known as methemoglobinemia, where the hemoglobin contained in the blood does not carry or release oxygen in the correct way. Because of this, people who have this condition have skin that is colored blue. In some of the sufferers, this manifested as a pale blue tint to an otherwise normal complexion. In others, it led to a deep bluish hue that left some people mortified and embarrassed.
Several studies have been done on the Fugates, and the end results are fairly conclusive. Methemoglobinemia in the case of the Fugate family and their relatives is caused by an enzyme deficiency resulting from a faulty gene. With regards to this gene, a child only inherits the Fugate blue skin if both parents are carrying the defective gene.
This leads to the inescapable conclusion that the inbreeding, also occasionally known as Founder’s Syndrome, is at work at Troublesome Creek. When family lines were traced back for the eight or so generations since Martin Fugate, it becomes very obvious that due to the isolated area, and due to the size of the families, it was sometimes difficult to tell who was related to who. First cousins married on a relatively regular basis, and in more than one case, a nephew ended up marrying an aunt who was of a roughly similar age.
This inbreeding resulted in an increase in the likelihood of two parents with a defective gene, and when that occurs, there is a chance that child that results from that union will have it too. Because a person does not necessarily need to actually have the blue skin to carry the faulty gene, it is not immediately obvious whether a child with blue skin will be born.
Though the Fugates are the most famous people with this condition, there are other ways to get methemoglobinemia than to be born with it. Some people acquire it through medication, as in the case of Paul Karason. Karason took colloidal silver to treat dermatitis, a skin condition. The result was that his ruddy hair went white, and his skin took on a fine blue sheen.
Simply because someone with methemoglobinemia does not mean that they will live with it their entire lives. Benjy Stacy was born in 1975, and his blue skin, similar to that of a ripe plum, so shocked doctors that they kept him in the intensive care unit for two days. They were considering a blood transfusion before his grandmother reminded them of the Fugates of Kentucky. By the time he was eight, Stacy’s skin had paled until he was virtually indistinguishable from any other little boy. At the time of his death, Karason was taking a reduced amount of the colloidal silver that had given him methemoglobinemia, and he was fading as well.
There is an enormous amount of diversity in the world, and in many cases, some of the most fascinating features take generations before they could be explained. As we learn more about the world we live in and even our own bodies, we discover there is even more that we never imagined.