Stigmata? Nameless Condition, Mysterious Bleeding

Twinkle Dwivedi, 13, from Lucknow India says she has suffered bleeding from her eyes, hairline, hands and feet.

While Dwivedi and her family view her bleeding as a medical condition so rare that doctors do not understand it, some people who claim to have the same inexplicable bleeding decide not to seek a medical cure.

A Sign, Not a Symptom?

In 1999, the Rev. Zlatko Sudac, a Croatian Roman Catholic priest, claimed he began bleeding from a cross-shaped wound on his forehead, according to a story about his 2002 visit to New York City in New York Magazine.

One year later, Sudac said he also started bleeding on his wrists, feet and side -- all locations associated with biblical accounts of Jesus Christ's wounds during the crucifixion.

Dwivedi also reported bleeding associated with stigmata such as "sweating blood," bleeding from her eyes and bleeding from her hands and feet. But the reaction to Sudac's symbolic wounds was quite different.

The Dwivedi's family reported that people doubted their claims at first, but most came to believe them and either pitied them or avoided the family.

Jeetu Tiwari, a 7-year-old boy who lives nearby, got so frightened the first time he saw Dwivedi bleeding that he ran inside his house. Now his father asks him to stay away.

"It looked like she had injuries all over her head," Tiwari said. "That was quite frightening."

Wounds Attract or Scare Others

While neighbors ran from Dwivedi, local newspapers, such as the New York Daily News reported churches overflowing with people who'd come to see Sudac. Now Web sites devoted to him carry his picture and prayers.

Meanwhile, Sudac was met with equal disbelief and skepticism. He reportedly does not give interviews to the media, and at the time of his visit to New York, even the Catholic Church refused to make any judgment.

The Rev. Zlatko Sudac has drawn crowds to see what he claims to be stigmata wounds on his forehead, hands, feet and side.

"There's no indication he's been anything but a good priest. As far as the stigmata is concerned, there has been no position taken on that," Frank DeRosa, spokesman for the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, told the New York Daily News.

While Sudac attributes his bleeding to faith, and Dwivedi is searching for a physical explanation, many top doctors would take an entirely different view: either completely disbelieve it or search for psychological reasons.

Psychosomatic Mystery?

"I was in a clinical center in the [National Institutes of Health] and I saw many, many cases -- they actually can bleed into their skin," said Dr. Louis Aledort, a professor of medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital and a hematologist specializing in bleeding and coagulation disorders.

"I must have seen in my career, 20 patients about this," Aledort said.

Aledort said the causes are debated, but many believe it is a subconscious action of the brain due to trauma. First, the person bruises, even under the protection of a cast, and then rarely, people bleed through the skin.

"They can have spontaneous bleeding into the skin that is controlled by the emotions," Aledort said. "These people are not doing it on purpose and nobody understands how it works, but clearly blood vessels can be controlled by emotions."

In 2000, Turkish doctors reported a case of psychogenic purpura with symptoms similar to stigmata in the May edition of the journal Psychosomatics.

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