Genes play a vital role in the way our bodies and minds develop. We don’t often think about them, but they are responsible for so many of the traits we carry with us throughout our lives.

Sometimes, genetic mutations can occur during a baby’s development, which can lead to problems as they grow older. The extent to which it affects the person varies, and it’s something they will have to deal with their entire life.

In the case of the Fugate family from eastern Kentucky, a rare genetic defect caused quite the startling result in family members. You have to see it to believe it…

The characteristics that we carry with us throughout our lives are a direct result of our genetic makeup. And while everyone has different traits that make them unique, one family from eastern Kentucky, the Fugates, may have one of the rarest—and strangest—genetic disorders of all.

The Fugate family first settled in eastern Kentucky in 1820. Martin Fugate and his wife, Elizabeth Smith, started a life for themselves in a remote part of the Appalachian region called Troublesome Creek.

Martin and his wife wanted to start a large family, and they quickly began to have children. However, all of their offspring were born with a very unusual characteristic. It was something that no one at the time could explain, but that no one could ignore…

Elizabeth gave birth to seven children, and three of them had blue skin! Martin and his wife were in shock when they saw what they looked like; they had never seen someone with skin like that before. Why on Earth was their flesh tinted blue?

As it turned out, both Martin and Elizabeth carried a recessive gene that caused a condition called methemoglobinemia. It’s a rare genetic defect that gives people a blue tint to their skin because of the lack of oxygen in their blood.

Another reason why this gene was so prominent had to do with inbreeding. During those times, incest wasn’t looked upon with the disdain that it is today. The Fugates lived in an isolated area, and that severely limited their options when it came to finding a partner to wed and have children with, so they partnered with each other.

Methemoglobinemia has a tendency to cause seizures and developmental delays, but luckily, the Fugates all lived long and healthy lives, despite their odd skin color. The only struggle they encountered was psychological because of their “outsider” status.

In the early 1960s, a doctor by the name of Madison Cawein took interest in the Fugate family. He was a hematologist from the University of Kentucky medical clinic, and he was fascinated by the Fugates’ strange genetic defect. He wanted to try to help figure out what was causing the bluish hue.

After speaking with some of the family members and conducting his own research, the doctor concluded that their blood was lacking a crucial enzyme. He injected members with methylene blue, which was a dye, and almost instantly the color of their skin started to turn pink! The doctor then supplied the family with methylene tablets to take daily.

The Fugates continued to have large families, however the blue from their skin slowly began to fade with each generation thanks to coal mining and railroads bringing in lots of new settlers (and potential partners). The Fugates were finally able to marry outside of their family, and the defective gene receded. The last known blue Fugate family member, Benjy Stacy, was born in 1975. Thankfully, the color faded after a few weeks. Will there be more blue Fugates in the future? Only time will tell.

What a strange genetic disorder. Imagine seeing a blue person in real life? At least now you might know why!

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