The Fugate family of Kentucky was not the only one who has ever turned blue, but they are the first in history to be noticed. Over 200 years are gone, and they are still a fascinating mystery and question that keeps popping up in the minds of many.
The Smurfs was a movie franchise that held the attention of not just children but adults as well. With its entertaining content and its childish theme, it created a feeling of nostalgia and excitement. What is unknown to most people is that the blue people really existed. They just didn't have an antagonist wizard or music for every fitting situation; well, not that we know of.
Popularly called the Blue People of Troublesome Creek, the Fugate family were just ordinary humans, aside from their deep indigo blue skin and their secluded, tight-knitted society. So, how did they become blue?
The Fugate Family Of Kentucky
In the early 1800s, Martin Fugate, a French orphan with blue skin, who lived in the United States, married Elizabeth Smith. She was as "pale and white as the mountain laurel that blooms every spring around the creek hollows."
Unknown to both of them, they were both recessive carriers of the methemoglobinemia (met-H) gene. That gene led to a genetic blood disorder causing the skin to be tinted blue.
They had seven children, and four of them were blue. Fugate family lived in a secluded area in Eastern Kentucky with no access to roads or railways, making them unable to interact with other people.
Maybe it was pure coincidence or a deliberate act, as they would have felt insecure about their skin color. Due to the lack of new people, they ended up intermarrying bearing names like Combs, Smith, Ritchie, and Stacy.
Unknown to them, this was the perfect way for them to increase the trail of the recessive gene, producing more blue people. Fortunately for the Fugates, they didn't suffer from any other illness because of their disorder except the strange blue color.
They even had long life spans as most of them lived well into their 80s and 90s.
What Causes Blue Skin In Humans
Wouldn't it be strange and cause endless paranoia if you wake up one morning, walk up to the mirror and find yourself totally blue? Not that it is going to happen to you, but it isn't impossible. Once Oprah interviewed a man, Paul Karason, who suddenly turned blue. He suffered from a rare skin disorder that gave his skin a blue color: Argyria, a condition caused by silver poisoning.
Unlike the Fugate family, Paul wasn't born blue, nor did he have any relative who was ever blue. In fact, he was as white as any Caucasian man until he got exposed to a chemical known as colloidal silver that seemed like a friend at first but later proved to be his worst foe.
At this time of his life, Paul going through a lot. His father was closing in towards the end of his life, and he was in the care of his elderly mother. Because of intensive stress, he suffered a severe case of dermatitis, which caused serious damage to his skin. Because of the rumor about colloidal silver's healing power, he figured it would be a great remedy for his awful predicament, and boy was he wrong. The most interesting part of his story is that he was unaware of his skin color until his friend visited him.
The Fugates were a different story. They were suffering from a blood disorder caused by a genetic mutation. This genetic anomaly was first recognized in this family, but they were not the first to suffer from it. After much speculation, a few decades later, it was finally known to the world that it wasn't sorcery or old juju but a rare blood disorder known as methemoglobinemia.
What Is Methemoglobinemia?
Methemoglobinemia is a blood disorder in which the ability of hemoglobin to carry oxygen is reduced due to the presence of excess methemoglobin. Methemoglobin is hemoglobin, which is oxidized into ferric iron, preventing it from carrying oxygen. This is because oxidized ferric iron cannot bind oxygen. Thereby, it cannot be transported to the tissues.
What Causes Methemoglobinemia?
There are two causes of methemoglobinemia. The first is congenital methemoglobinemia, and the second is the acquired methemoglobinemia.
Congenital methemoglobinemia occurs when both parents are recessive carriers of the gene, or one parent is a dominant carrier of the abnormal gene. Here, most of the carriers do not have any symptoms at all.
The second case is the acquired methemoglobinemia, which is also known as acute methemoglobinemia. It is caused by exposure to certain harmful and hazardous chemical substances. It is the most common cause of blood disorder and can lead to death if not treated immediately.
How Is Methemoglobinemia Treated?
Most people with methemoglobinemia do not have any symptoms because the gene is recessive. Hence it doesn't require treatment.
Severe cases of this disorder are normally treated as medical emergencies, as they can lead to death.
The drug methylene blue is usually the first treatment. In most cases, they prescribe ascorbic acid to reduce the level of methemoglobin present in the blood. When this didn't work, blood transfusion and oxygen therapy are required.
Modern Day Blue Skinned People In Kentucky
Benjamin "Benjy" Stacy, a long descendant of the original Fugates, gave a real scare to his family and the University Of Kentucky Medical Center doctors in 1975 immediately after his birth.
His skin had an abnormal blue color. After a few days of testing, the doctors were not closer to finding the cause of his ailment. Then his grandmother gave them the first clue in solving this great puzzle by asking, "Have you ever heard of the blue Fugates of Troublesome Creek?"
After that, different relatives gave the doctors stories about his blue-skinned great-grandmother, Luna Fugate - an original Fugate. They described her as the blue all over and the bluest woman they have ever seen. The pieces started to fit properly in the mind of the medical staff. It also ignited the minds of some.
Research About Blue People
Madison Cawein, a hematologist at the University of Kentucky Medical Center, was so intrigued by this young boy that he did total research on the disorder.
In the heat of his research, Cawein found a nurse named Ruth Pendergrass at American Heart Association Clinic that could give him golden information.
Yes, she has heard of the disorder, and yes, she has seen someone who suffered from it. She recalled attending to a blue-skinned woman who came to the clinic for a blood test one freezing afternoon. According to Ruth, her fingernails and face were almost indigo blue, and she looked like she was about to suffer from a cardiac arrest.
This blue woman was a family member of the blue Combes, a sister to one of the Fugates.
Benjy Stacy later outgrew his blue color, but sometimes, when he is cold or angry, a tint of blue appears on his lips and checks.
The story of the blue people of Kentucky would be one we would never forget. It doesn't just tell a story about a medical abnormality but a story about pain, insecurity, and fear of discrimination. A story that takes us back to an adage. People really judge a book by its cover.