The Human Papillomavirus is a sexually transmitted disease that has the tendency to cause genital warts on the victim, among numerous other side effects such as cancer. But in some very rare cases the warts caused from this disease can spread to the rest of the body. This is the case of Dede Kosawa, a 39 year old Indonesian fisherman who has lived with these symptoms his entire life. Usually HPV is treatable by the victim’s immune system, but Dede has a rare autosomal recessive genetic hereditary skin disorder called Epidermodysplasia verruciformis. This skin disorder makes the immune system particularly weak to all strands of HPV. Dede had begun growing warts all over his body at the age of 10 when he had suffered a cut on his knee while playing in a forested region. As years passed the cut went untreated and these warts weren’t contained to the genital area that HPV usually shows symptoms and the warts continued to grow. With each passing year the warts would grow larger and larger until it finally affected Dede’s life. As Dr Anthony Gaspari of the University of Maryland explained “The virus was able to "hijack the cellular machinery of his skin cells, ordering them to produce massive amounts of the substance that caused the tree-like growths known as "cutaneous horns" on his hands and feet.”
Dr Anthony Gaspari became interested in Dede when Dede’s picture created an internet sensation a few years ago. Dr. Gaspari was able to diagnose the condition and began subscribing various forms of treatment. Since Dede couldn’t feel many of the wart growths that had grown over his body, Gaspari’s first attempt to help Dede in 2008 was to cut 13 pounds of warts from his body. The operation was a success and although Dede still had numerous wart growths on his body, he was now able to use his hands and walk without pain. Gaspari’s second attempt to help Dede was to put him under chemotherapy, hoping that this would eradicate some of the HPV strands that have caused him to have these abnormal growths. The chemotherapy had to be stopped because Dede’s liver was failing. Gaspari is still confident that he can help Dede, but the Indonesian government won’t allow him to do further testing. “There are things I still want to do for Dede, but my hands are tied,” he said. “The government seems to view me as some outsider butting in where I don’t belong.” Gaspari believes that possibly a bone marrow transplant could help Dede, along with many other treatments not available in Indonesia, but for the time being, Gaspari is completely cut off from helping Dede.
Dede’s wife had left him because he could no longer provide for his family after he was fired from his job for not being able to use his hands anymore. Even with Dede being able to use his hands and feet again, he still is in need of further operations. Dede still cannot use his hands to the full potential they once had and he his being barred from traveling to other countries for looking for a cure. The Indonesian government believes that Dede would become an “exploited medical research project”. Dede wasn’t able to find a new job and now lives in poverty with his two children and will forever be labeled the “Tree Man” until someone can find a treatment or the Indonesian government allows outsiders to help once more.
Some helpful links:
The Telegraph, Tree Man article