Surgeons have successfully removed a rare “human tail” from a 10-day-old baby.
On June 18, a medical team at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corp. (GPHC) in Guyana, the country in South America’s northeastern corner, carried out the operation.
The boy was born with an abnormal spine that led to the emergence of a “tail”—known technically as a caudal appendage. This appendage is essentially a continuation of the boy’s spine and spinal nerve elements.
“The unique presentation of a pathology such as the ‘human tail’ is not only rare in Guyana, but the world,” the GPHC said in a statement.
This rare, congenital abnormality usually appears after birth or in early childhood. Only a few dozen cases of a caudal appendage have been recorded in the medical literature.
A 2012 study published in the journal BMJ Case Reports provided an explanation for why such a human tail might appear.
Most animal species carry “genetic blueprints” of organs that have been lost over the course of evolution, according to the study. These blueprints are “switched off” but remain in genetic storage. On very rare occasions, these ancient organs may reappear as the result of these switched-off genes turning on again.
The presence of a tail-like appendage is usually considered to be a marker of underlying spinal dysraphism, an umbrella term that describes a number of conditions present at birth. They are characterized by an abnormal structure in the spine, spinal cord or nerve roots.
The operation to remove the tail of the 10-day-old infant was led by Dr. Amarnauth Dukhi. After removing it, the surgeon and his team reconstructed the child’s spinal canal using a sophisticated procedure. The surgery was successful, and the boy has since been discharged from the hospital.
The tail was removed to provide the child with an opportunity to develop normally, according to the GPHC.
“While a human baby having a caudal appendage resembling a tail generates an unusual amount of interest, excitement, and anxiety—often parents may be concerned about the social stigma, superstition or shame that may befall their young child when they are integrated into society,” the hospital said.
It continued: “Due to its extremely rare presentation, the occurrence of the human tail is a phenomenon of great interest to both the lay and medical community. As a tertiary medical institution with a commitment to medical education and research, GPHC will be presenting this case to the global medical community for documentation and review.”