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Disease Underlies Hatfield-McCoy Feud

Affected family members have long been known to be combative, even with their kin. Reynolds recalled her grandfather, "Smallwood" McCoy.

"When he would come to visit, everyone would run and hide. They acted like they were scared to death of him. He had a really bad temper," she said.

Her adopted daughter, another McCoy descendant, 11-year-old Winnter Reynolds, just had an adrenal tumor removed at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital. Teachers thought the girl had ADHD _ attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Now, Winnter says, "my parents are thinking it may be the tumor" that caused the behavior. "I've been feeling great since they took it out."

Her adoptive father, James Reynolds, said of the McCoys: "It don't take much to set them off. They've got a pretty good temper.

"Before the surgery, Winnter, when we would discipline her, she'd squeeze her fists together and get real angry and start hollering back at us, screaming and crying," he said.

As for the older McCoys, "they just started dropping dead of the tumors," he said. "They didn't know what it was. A name wasn't really put on the disease until 1968. That's when one of my brothers-in-law had to have surgery, to have some tumors removed in his brain. They started to notice tumors occurring in each of the family members."

Dr. Nuzhet Atuk at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and geneticists at the University of Pennsylvania studied the family for more than 30 years, Rita Reynolds said.

"They went back on the genealogy and all of that stuff," she said. "They called it madness disease. They said that it had to be coming from the VHL. Our family would just go off, even on the doctors."

Now 85 and retired, Atuk said he could not talk about his work because of medical confidentiality.

Rita Reynolds had two adrenal tumors removed a few years ago. Her mother and three brothers also had them. So do McCoy descendants in Oregon, Michigan and Indiana, she said.

"When you have these tumors, you're easy to get upset," said Rita's mother, Goldie Hankins, 76, of Big Rock, Va., near the Kentucky-West Virginia border. "When people get on your nerves, you just can't take it. You get angry because your blood pressure was so high."

Still, many are dubious that this condition had much of a role in the bitter feud with the Hatfields, which played out in the hill country of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia for decades.


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© 2007 The Associated Press