Causes, Treatment, and Survivors of Mermaid Syndrome – A Fatal Birth Defect

Mermaid syndrome, also known as sirenomelia, is a rare congenital birth defect in which an infant’s legs are fused as one. The fused legs resemble that of the lower limb of a mermaid, a Greek mythological character that has a head and upper body of a woman, and the tail of a fish.   What makes mermaid syndrome fatal before or immediately after birth is the incomplete development, malformation, or absence of vital organs in the infant’s body.

The frequency of babies born with Mermaid syndrome is 1 for every 70, 000 births; this statistical data shows that Mermaid syndrome is such a very rare birth defect. Interestingly, of the thousands of babies born with Mermaid syndrome, only 300 of them has been reported alive after birth. Moreover, out of these 300 alive babies, majority of them die few days after birth because of fatal complications as a result of deformation or total absence of vital organs such as kidneys and bladder. The uterus, vagina, urinary tracts, genitals, anal opening and other parts of the lower body may be missing or being misplaced.


How Mermaid Syndrome is Developed?

Mermaid syndrome develops in the early period of fetal development due to a malfunction in the circulatory system of the fetus. The lower limbs and some caudal organs (e.g. kidneys, bladder, genitals) did not fully developed because they are deprived with adequate supply of oxygen and nutrients. There is low or blocked blood flow in the blood vessels going to the lower region of the body; hence, the lower limbs and organs did not develop completely.

Causes of Mermaid Syndrome

Scientists could not yet explain what initiates the development of Mermaid syndrome but they have proposed various hypotheses:

  • The birth defect can be a result of an illness suffered by the mother or the fetus during pregnancy.
  • The expectant mother may have rendered poor prenatal care by drinking alcohol, using narcotics, bad nutrition, smoking, etc.
  • Mermaid syndrome can also be the result of the mother’s exposure to radiation and other environmental agents that caused mutations of genes involved in the normal development of the fetus.
  • Spontaneous mutations or naturally occurring mutations in the fetus may have also caused the birth defect. This explains why Mermaid syndrome incidences have occurred as isolated cases in families.

More researches are needed to find out whatever the genetic, biological, or environmental cause of Mermaid syndrome.

Treatment of Mermaid Syndrome

If the two legs were only fused through the skin and the three main bones are fully and correctly formed, surgery is used to separate the two legs. However, successful separation of the fused legs does not guarantee that the child will be able to walk normally. The child can survive as long as the vital organs are complete and fully functional.

In severe Mermaid syndrome, the two legs are completely joined, appear tapered, and are poorly formed.  One of the three major bones may be missing and there is complete absence of foot structures. Defects in internal structures can also be observed through medical tests and x-rays. Infants having severe Mermaid syndrome have little chance for survival.

As mentioned earlier, the fused legs are not the main cause of death for babies with Mermaid syndrome; it is the absence or deformity of important internal organs such as the kidneys. Successful organ transplants are needed to save the babies.

Mermaid Syndrome Survivors

Babies born with Mermaid syndrome alive usually last for days even though surgeries and organ transplants were performed to them. However, medical mysteries do happen as three females were able to celebrate their birthdays. These three female survivors of mermaid syndrome are Shiloh Pepin of Maine, USA, Tiffany Yorks of USA, and Milagros Cerron of Peru.

Shiloh Pepin was born on August 4, 1999 but died on October 23, 2009 due to a serious case of pneumonia. Shiloh was born with missing uterus, bladder, and vagina and her colon is only 6 inches long. She has only one ovary (instead of 2) and one quarter kidney. Her legs is fused but did not undergo surgery to separate them. Pepin has successfully survived multiple operations at her ten years of existence, including two successful kidney transplants. She has appeared in the Oprah Winfrey show and other television programs. As a result of her exposure to media, she raised people’s awareness and understanding to Mermaid syndrome. Pepin will always be remembered by people who were touched by her story.

Tiffany York, born on May 7, 1988, is the longest living Mermaid syndrome survivor. Besides from having fused legs, she was born with missing bladder so she underwent bladder transplant which turned on to be successful. Her legs was later on separated (at the age of 26) but until now she has difficulty walking because her legs are very fragile; she depends on wheelchair and crunches for movement.  Like Shiloh Pepin, Tiffany has undergone various operations too.

Peruvian Milagros Cerron, born April 27, 2004, was the daughter of poor couple from the Andes Mountain of Peru. She was born with fused legs that were separated successfully on February 8, 2005. She has a deformed left kidney and a small right kidney located very low her body. Moreover, her urinary and digestive tracts as well as genitals, share a single tube. Milagros (Spanish for ‘miracle’) was traumatized by her surgical operation to separate her fused legs but she is recovering with the help of her parents. The City of Lima has pledged to pay many of Milagros’ operations. The city has also provided a decent job for Milagros’ father in the city.


Pictures of Mermaid Syndrome

Shilo pepin, Image from Wikimedia Commons

Another Photo of Shiloh Pepin

Milagros cerron, Image from Wikimedia Commons

Milagros Cerron

Shiloh pepin, frm Wikimedia

Shiloh Pepin