Being diagnosed with any incurable disease is misfortune enough, but society for some reason looks upon the diagnoses of rare diseases as a special kind of grim fate dealt by the universe, the house which always wins. But sometimes — a one in ten million or more sometimes — a person is stricken with a disease so rare, so peculiar, and so oddly beneficial that it could almost be considered a superpower instead of a debilitating problem. Here are 10 cases of rare diseases that resemble super powers.
Liam Hoekstra, The Superkid
When Dana Hoekstra and her husband adopted Liam Hoekstra at birth, they never expected that he would turn out to have a condition so rare that doctors don’t even know how many people are afflicted with it.
Born of a father who was reported to possess incredible strength, Liam was diagnosed with myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy at the age of three. It wasn’t appearing sick that prompted Liam’s parents to have him examined by doctors, but his seemingly super-human strength. Liam could lift five-pound dumbbells and perform multiple chin-ups when most kids his age struggled to complete even a single one.
Myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy was first discovered by scientists in the 1990s, and even then it was only recorded in Belgian Blue cattle, a cow renowned for its unusually large muscle mass. In 2000, a German boy was reported as having the condition, but the “disease” wasn’t officially entered into any medical literature until 2004.
What doctors do know about the condition is that Liam possessed almost 40% more muscle mass than others his age, has an extremely fast metabolism and close to no body fat. Remarkably, the condition causes skeletal muscles without any detrimental effects to the heart or any other areas of the body.
While experts say that Liam’s condition will become truly noticeable in his teenage years when he begins to look misleadingly as if he’s a protein-chugging steroid addict, we may never know; Liam’s parents have refused multiple television interviews and pulled him out of the spotlight in order to give him a normal childhood.
Williams syndrome is a genetic condition that effects 1 in 10,000 people worldwide. Somewhat uncommon yet not as rare as Liam Hoekstra’s super strength, doctors know a great deal about this syndrome and how to treat those who have it. While the physical ailments related to Williams Syndrome are serious and can be life-threatening, the mental effects of this disorder are less than daunting and can almost be considered a blessing — or a super power — in themselves.
Getting the bad stuff out of the way, Williams Syndrome can cause cardiovascular disease, developmental delays, and learning disabilities due to the 26 deleted genes that characterize it.
On the brighter end of the spectrum, those with Williams Syndrome are naturally kinder, more cheerful, and more social than the rest of us. While most of us are walking around glum and moody, grumpy that our car got a flat tire or because some daily tribulation didn’t go our way, those with Williams Syndrome are naturally able to find true happiness in the face of serious complications.
Although those with Williams Syndrome often struggle with speech development, spatial relations and abstract reasoning, most who have this condition also possess an affinity for music so great that there are entire programs and centers dedicated to teaching music to those with Williams Syndrome alone.
On the subject of music, Marfan Syndrome is a disorder that could be considered a musician’s best friend. Marfan Syndrome is a genetic disorder that effects the connective tissue, causing those who have it to typically grow taller than others and possess longer limbs and fingers.
Although Marfan Syndrome can be somewhat painful since it is characterized by a weakening of the connective tissue and therefore may effect the sac surrounding the spinal cord, it can possibly be attributed to skyrocketing the careers of certain famous musicians.
Sergei Rachaminoff, a famous Russian pianist, is believed to have had Marfan Syndroma, as is Niccolo Paganini, a violinist so proficient that many people actually accused him of selling his soul to Satan in exchange for his musical prowess.
Most people immediately think of Savant Syndrome when thinking of Autism simply because it is the type of Autism most commonly featured on television and in movies; Ran Man and A Beautiful Mind are probably the most famous examples of Savant Syndrome on the big screen.
Savant Syndrome, while debilitating in the way that it is caused by larger and more threatening central nervous system disorders, causes a person to display extremely proficient skills bordering on genius in specific areas such as math, art, or music.
Psychiatrist Darold Treffert attributes these extreme skills to a near-perfect memory, which he claims all Savants possess.
And although only 10% of Autistic people have Savant Syndrome, only 50% of those with Savant Syndrome have Autism; the other half suffer from an entirely different central nervous system disorder or disease.
Remarkable Savants include mathematical genius Jedediah Buxton, scientist Temple Grandin, artist Gottfried Mind, and numerical genius George Widener.
Lords of EPO
While many athletes are illegally “gene doping,” or taking drugs meant to boost their athletic performance via genetic and cell ‘alterations,’ some athletes (and non-athletes) are believed to have been born with genetic mutations which naturally increase their chances of winning.
EPO, or Erythropoietin, is a drug intended to boost the red blood cell count and therefore the user’s oxygen intake. Those with a naturally higher red blood cell count are prone to better athletic performances without all the sneaky illegal stuff.
Real Life Daredevil Sees Using Sound
While blindness isn’t exactly a disease, it is remarkable that some have turned this disability into an advantage with the use of echolocation. Scientific research supports the idea that the blind can adequately use echolocation to determine the locations of objects. Isn’t that sort of what the superhero Daredevil used to locate (and eradicate) his enemies?
When compared in a study, blind people with no experience with echolocation performed much better than vision-possessing people, also with no experience with echolocation. Considering the fact that our senses become heightened to compensate for those which are taken away, this only makes sense.
There’s also the case of Ben Underwood, a teenage boy who recovered from his blindness (caused by cancer) so well that he continues to play sports, ride his bike, and rollerblade around unassisted.
The idea of being scared of absolutely nothing is, in itself, pretty scary. But not to Jordy Cernik, whose loss of his adrenalin gland has left him unable to become frightened of anything.
Cernik underwent an operation to remove this gland after a rare condition which caused arthritis and brittle bones caused it to become problematic. Although he no longer feels fear because he is unable to produce adrenaline, the natural painkiller contained therein is also gone, resulting in constant pain for Cernik. Despite his major difficulties in life, Cernik’s post-operation activities included skydiving and ziplining for charity. He says he will do “whatever helps raise money, the more daring the better.”
A Painless Life
Getting tattoos, giving birth and even working out would be a whole lot easier if we were just able to turn off the annoying pain that yells at our brains to cut it out. But life is not all laid back leisure for Ashlyn Blocker and others who are afflicted with a rare disorder that prevents them from feeling any pain at all.
Described as Fearless, Blocker’s parents have to keep an extra-watchful eye on their daughter, who has a congenital insensitivity to pain called CIPA; without natural alarms to tell her when she’s being hurt or physically threatened, Blocker is completely unaware of her own safety or lack thereof. Besides ignoring pain, her body is also completely unaware of extreme temperatures — leaving her more susceptible to burns or hypothermia than most others.
Since CIPA only effects the nerve fibers that deliver messages of pain to the brain, Blocker is able to differentiate between textures, feel hunger, and feel the warmth of cuddling. However, the disorder is incurable and will effect her — both negatively and positively — for the rest of her life.
The existence of magnetic people has been a subject of heated debate for a very long time. While there has never been any scientific evidence proving that those claiming magnetic ‘superpowers’ legitimately exist, people continue to come out yearly with claims of magnetism.
While it is easy to scientifically test for magnetic fields, no such tests proving human magnetism have ever been produced. But does that alone make it fake?
Possibly; many believe that those displaying magnetic properties either possess sticky skin made so by chemicals or glue, a good grasp of the way friction works, and an affinity for leaning slightly backwards so the metal objects don’t slip right off them. But it’s still fun to believe that somewhere in the world is an extremely disgruntled person, annoyed with all the fakers, who truly can walk around with forty spoons stuck to their head all day.
While they don’t suffer from any specific disease or disorder, extremely tall “giant” men have always been regarded as somewhat superhuman. And their height, despite its advantage in sports at the very least, has a number of debilitating side effects as well.
Extremely tall men have had to do little to gain fame and recognition. Al Tomaini was an 8’4″ circus giant in the 1930s who wore size 27 shoes and went on to marry a double amputee who was only 2’6″; Bernard Coyne was over 8 feet tall and refused entry into the US army in the late 1800s due to his height; Robert Wadlow was born in 1918 and still remains the tallest man to ever have lived, at 8’11”.
But all of these men died relatively young from health complications caused by their rapidly growing muscles, which their organs were not able to adequately support.