What is mermaid syndrome?

What is mermaid syndrome?
What is mermaid syndrome?

The parents discovered their child’s illness during delivery.

This is an extremely rare case. In India, a 25-year-old woman gave birth to a child suffering from sirenomelia. He died only fifteen minutes after his birth. The future mother’s pregnancy had only been followed by a single ultrasound, so it was only at birth that the parents discovered their child’s serious illness, through shock. The child weighed only 1.4 kg and had a “fin” instead of legs, said the doctor present at the birth.

Leg fusion like a mermaid

Described for the first time by Rocheus in 1542 then Polfyr in 1553, sirenomelia affects 1 in 100,000 live births worldwide. More commonly boys and twins, particularly if they grow up in the same pouch (monozygotes). Sirenomelia is a rare and fatal birth defect characterized by abnormalities of the lower spine and lower extremities. The child is born with legs partially or entirely fused, reminiscent of a mermaid’s tail, hence the other name “mermaid syndrome”. Affected infants may have one foot, no feet, or both feet. The coccyx is usually absent and the sacrum is also partially or completely absent. Absence of spleen and/or gallbladder has also been reported.

Baby with sirenomelia, stillborn at 8 months © J Neonatal Surg. 2012 Jan-Mar; 1(1): 7.

Not very clear causes…

The causes of sirenomelia are not completely understood, “most cases occur randomly for no apparent reason”, informs the National Organization for Rare Disorders (United States). Scientific studies suggest several factors that could contribute to its appearance:

► genetic factors: no specific gene has been identified as responsible but researchers believe sirenomelia may be linked to genetic mutations or chromosomal abnormalities

► environmental factors : Exposure to certain chemicals or medications during pregnancy could increase the risk of this malformation.

► vascular anomalies : anomalies in the vascular development of the fetus such as an interruption of circulation in the vitelline artery (the one which supplies blood to the lower body of the fetus) could prevent normal development of the lower limbs.

This malformation causes serious urinary, kidney and digestive problems. More than 50% of children die in utero – therefore during pregnancy – and those who are born alive most often die within the first 48 hours of life. However, there are a few exceptional cases such as that of Tiffany Yorks, who survived until the age of 27 (1988-2016) and the Peruvian Milagros Cerron who died in 2015 at the age of 15.

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