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Medical Mystery: The Blue Skinned Fugates of Kentucky

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As many people know, I'm a Michigan State Spartan fan and we always say "Go Green!" at the games. As my readers may also know, our biggest rival is the University of Michigan Wolverines who always say "Go Blue!" at games. When I read the strange news below, I thought maybe this is what the folks down the road in Ann Arbor, Michigan mean when they say "Go Blue"…

According to a recent report, the Fugates of Kentucky had blue skin. The story tells the unusual story of a genetic blood condition that turns the skin blue. Although doctors don't typically see the condition in modern times, the Fugate family offers a window into the medical mystery of Methemoglobinemia. Thanks to Dr. Madison Cawein III, a hematologist, who collected blood samples and created a family history of the Fugates, doctors were able to gain a better understanding of the rare condition that is passed down through a recessive gene and flourished through intermarriage.

The ancestors of the Fugates were French but settled in Eastern Kentucky and intermarried at a high rate. Because mountain people have dispersed, doctors rarely see anyone with the condition anymore. The condition is characterized by blue skin and is caused by the abnormal production of methemoglobin, a form of hemoglobin. In Methemoglobinemia, the body cannot carry the oxygen and makes it difficult for unaffected hemoglobin to release oxygen to the body tissues, leading to blue tinged skin.