The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A rare disease gave him tree branch-like hands. After 16 surgeries, he can finally see his fingers.

Abul Bajandar of Bangladesh, dubbed Tree Man for the massive bark-like warts on his hands and feet, sits at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital in January 2016. (Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images)

When the warts first appeared in his teens, speckling his hands and feet, Abul Bajandar wasn’t concerned.

Cutting away the unsightly growths himself was too painful, he told AFP, so Bajandar sought medication from a homeopath and herbal specialist in his poor, coastal Bangladeshi village. That just made them worse.

But it wasn’t until his early 20s, after he’d worked for years as a rickshaw driver and married his wife, that the warts took on a bark-like appearance and began to rapidly multiply.

By age 25, his hands looked like an overgrown bramble.

People began calling him “Tree Man.”

He could not work, or feed himself, or brush his own teeth. Bajandar was in pain. His family, which had consulted doctors in India but couldn’t afford treatment, was desperate for answers.

So when a television station was in their village covering municipal elections, Bajandar approached them for help, reported the Daily Star.

“At first I thought he was asking for money,” Sunil Das, SATV bureau chief, told the Daily Star. “But when he showed me his hands I realized I had never seen anything like that before.”

Soon, the man’s story became an international sensation, inspiring monetary donations from around the globe and a team of doctors and plastic surgeons at Dhaka Medical College Hospital to treat him free of charge.

“I want to live like a normal person,” Bajandar told CNN last February. “I just want to be able to hold my daughter properly and hug her.”

Doctors diagnosed the man with epidermodysplasia verruciformis, a rare genetic disease that makes people especially susceptible to human papillomavirus and developing skin tumors. According to AFP, Bajandar was only one of four people in the world to be diagnosed with the illness, which subjects its victims to a lifetime of growths.

Bangladeshi 'tree man' gets surgery (Video: Reuters)

In January 2016, surgeons at the hospital performed tests on Bajandar’s warts to ensure they could be removed without damaging his major nerves or causing other health problems, AFP reported.

Now, nearly a year and 16 surgeries later, Bajandar has his hands back.

“Bajandar’s cure was a remarkable milestone in the history of medical science,” Samanta Lal Sen, plastic surgery coordinator at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, told AFP. “We operated on him at least 16 times to remove the warts. The hands and feet are now almost fine.”

Sen told AFP Bajandar could be the first person to be cured of the disease — though it’s possible the warts could grow back. The condition killed an Indonesian man last year, AFP reported.

Bajandar, now 27, will endure a few more procedures, Sen told CNN, but they are more for “beautification.”

Photos of Bajandar post-surgery show his limbs in thick bandages, but underneath his once-consumed hands now have thin, individual fingers free of the discolored growths. He can eat and write on his own, CNN reported.

“I never thought I would ever be able to hold my kid with my hands,” Bajandar told AFP. “Now I feel so much better, I can hold my daughter in my lap and play with her. I can’t wait to go back home.”

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