During a boring recent afternoon, my friend the internet alerted me to something called methemoglobinemia, a condition that can give the blood “a bluish or chocolate-brown color,” according to the Book of Wikipedia. A nearly 30-year-old article by Cathy Trost in Science 82 says the Fugate clan of East KY — aided by some good old-fashioned inbreeding — had it bad. Trost wrote:
“They’re known simply as the “blue people” in the hills and hollows around Troublesome and Ball Creeks. Most lived to their 80s and 90s without serious illness associated with the skin discoloration. For some, though, there was a pain not seen in lab tests. That was the pain of being blue in a world that is mostly shades of white to black.”
Trost quotes hematologist Madison Cawein, whose fascination with the Kentucky blue-bloods in the 1960s led him to chase these curious humans through the hills. He finally got his hands on Smurfy siblings Patrick and Rachel Ritchie. Again from Frost:
“They were bluer’n hell,” Cawein says. “Well, as you can imagine, I really examined them. After concluding that there was no evidence of heart disease, I said ‘Aha!’ I started asking them questions: ‘Do you have any relatives who are blue?’ then I sat down and we began to chart the family.”
Cawein remembers the pain that showed on the Ritchie brother’s and sister’s faces. “They were really embarrassed about being blue,” he said. “Patrick was all hunched down in the hall. Rachel was leaning against the wall. They wouldn’t come into the waiting room. You could tell how much it bothered them to be blue.”
Well, sure. Kermit taught us that from a different position on the color wheel.
Aw, Kermit. You’re right. I’m mean and wrong. I made two Smurf jokes in this post, and for that I am sorry. These people couldn’t help their condition, though doctors ultimately could, turning them from blue to pink with a single injection.
Let’s hope they find a cure for these boys as well.