“The girl child had three heads. She looked like an alien.”
This sad but decidedly Fortean (or perhaps Ripley-esque) story comes from India, where doctors this week report the birth of a baby girl with three heads. Granted, it’s not the mythological three-functioning-heads-on-three-necks condition, but it’s still highly unusual – and surprisingly not unique.
“This is a very rare medical condition. The child’s body has not fully developed. We will perform an MRI scan and then perform a surgery to separate the ‘heads’.”
According to The Sun and The Daily Star (no India sources could be found after extensive searches), Rajesh Thakur, Chief Medical Superintendent, District Hospital, Etah, examined the three-headed baby after she was moved to his hospital from a smaller health center in the Etah district where she was born after the mother came in suffering from extreme labor pains. Photos of the baby (seen here) show why that’s not surprising.
While the baby’s mother and her relatives were “shocked,” a witness named Bijji Thakur said “alien,” and the tabloids screamed “Three-Headed Baby!”, the doctors diagnosed the child’s condition as a birth defect known as encephalocele. This is caused by the failure of the neural tube to close completely during fetal development, causing protrusions (usually one, but sometimes more) to grow in middle of the skull, between the forehead and nose, or on the back side of the skull. Believe it or not, the child actually has a chance of surviving after the ‘heads’ are removed if they don’t contain any brain tissue and she has no other health conditions.
While Game of Thrones gave us three-headed dragons, Hinduism and other religions gave us three-headed gods, the Greeks gave us a three-headed hell-guarding dog, Japanese movies gave us three-headed monsters and over-breeding continues to give us numerous three-headed farm animals, actual three-heads-on-three-necks-with three-brains, non-encephalocele humans are tough to prove. A story from the January 16, 1898, edition of the DuBois Express tells of a baby boy whose two extra heads were smaller but “almost perfectly developed.” No pictures, of course, and no location of the cemetery where the remains could be exhumed and examined. More common are stories of births in 2009 in Guyana and 2011 in Indonesia where the diagnosis was encephalocele, not three heads.
A condition that could conceivably produce a three-headed baby is cojoined triplets. The more common cojoined twins generally share organs and are usually connected at the pelvis. Chances of separation and survival are getting better, especially with advanced surgery and how much they share. However, one body with two heads seems to be a snake and reptile thing, not human. Cojoined triplets in any species is extremely rare, with only one case reported in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (Volume 192, Issue 6, June 2005, Pages 2084-2087) and they were joined at the head and chest and not carried to term. The only other case involving triplets had two of the babies conjoined and one completely separated.
What about all of those pictures of three-headed babies? Good luck trying to verify any of them. It would be easier to clean up pollution, stop the use of dangerous chemicals in food and eliminate other practices that cause birth defects such as encephalocele.
In the meantime, let’s hope the baby in India can be treated and survives without complications.