The Blue People of Kentucky

The Blue People of Kentucky

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How a lucky marriage in the early 1800s led to a family lineage of people with blue skin

Image for postThe Fugates family

Image for postModern day picture of Hazard, Kentucky

This gene was passed down within the people of the settlement being concentrated around the Troublesome Creek and Ball Creek area. As these areas were quite remote, as seen above with the hills surrounding the settlement, the gene was carried through different family lines through intermarriages leading to a high concentration of cases in this area.

The 20th century brought this case to light leading to many doctors studying the small pocket of this disease. Of all of the doctors who performed research on those who suffered from methemoglobinemia the most significant have to be the haematologist Madison Cawein III and nurse Ruth Pendergrass.

Research and cure

Image for postNurse Ruth Pendergrass

Both the haematologist Madison Cawein III and nurse Ruth Pendergrass contributed heavily to the field of methemoglobinemia. Cawein probably had the biggest impact as he found how to treat the disease. As detailed in a paper he published in 1964 if methylene blue is injected into a patient with this condition the blue hue created by the disease starts to disappear.

Both the nurse and the haematologist contributed heavily to a project where the family tree of all sufferers of the disease was compiled. This allowed them to trace back the disease to the two people mentioned before Martin Fugate and Elizabeth Smith although it is believed by many to be inaccurate. Modern day research into the subject of all methemoglobinemia patients being descendants of the Fugates have come up with inconclusive answers.

Due to their research the last known person to be born with an active methemoglobinemia gene, Benjamin Stacy, born in 1975, was treated and the symptoms of the disease disappeared as they grew up, putting an end to one of the weirdest medical sagas in US history.

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