Orthopedic and plastic surgeons at Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Medical Center-Ein Kerem successfully treated 42-year-old Gaza resident Muhammad Taluli, whose hand was disfigured from an extremely rare contagious condition, epidermodysplasia verruciformis, or “tree man syndrome.”
Taluli suffered from painful tumors over his entire hand for the past decade, according to lead surgeon Dr. Michael Chernofsky.
“This was a very rare case that has no documentation whatsoever in the medical books,” Chernofsky told reporters. “He became introverted and ashamed, unwilling to expose his hand to others. It was covered all the time.”
Taluli came to Chernofsky’s hand and microvascular surgery clinic after failing to any doctor in Gaza, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority or elsewhere in Israel to treat his debilitating condition, which can develop into cancer.
Chernofsky, who moved to Israel in 2004 from Pennsylvania, had never seen a patient with tree man syndrome. He had read about a case in Bangladesh last year.
“I have a lot of experience with difficult and complicated cases,” he said, “but there is no documentation in the professional literature of how to treat such a condition. When he came to us, the decision to perform the operation was not easy to make.”
“We investigated the syndrome as much as possible to understand what treatment would be most effective,” said orthopedic specialist Dr. Shai Luria, adding that the team worked with extra precautions to avoid becoming infected. Tree man syndrome is thought to result from a genetic inability to fight off human papilloma virus (HPV).
After the tumors were removed, skin grafts from other areas of Taluli’s body were used to patch his hand. Hadassah dermatologist Vered Molcho administered an HPV vaccine in the hope of preventing a recurrence of the tumors.
“After a decade in which I sat embarrassed at home and could not work because of the limitations and fear of cancer, the experts here at Hadassah were the only ones who gave me hope for recovery,” Taluli said. “I truly hope that my previous life is already behind me, and I am waiting to see my family, my wife and my six children.”
The Israeli medical team is following Taluli’s recovery closely. A few days after the operation, he started occupational therapy to get used to using his formerly useless hand.