Bark-Like Skin Getting Better on 'Tree Man'

Indonesian man with a rare skin condition gets radical treatment.

August 7, 2008, 3:44 PM

Jakarta, INDONESIA, Aug. 12, 2008 — -- Dede Koswara, known in his native Indonesia as "Tree Man," has lived for years with rapidly spreading warts that have covered his entire body in a case that has baffled doctors.

The 37-year-old has been undergoing a radical transformation at a tropical hospital in Bandung and in the time it takes to conceive and give birth to new life, a team of local doctors have performed eight major operations involving an electric saw, skin grafting and the removal of pounds of dead skin tissue hardened by the years.

Dede, a father of two who goes by his first name, is expected to return home to his remote village at the end of this month. His parents, siblings and children have been visiting him regularly at the hospital.

"The surgery of Dede is not perfect, but the results meet what we hoped or expected," said Dr. Hardisiswo Soedjana, a leading plastic surgeon in Indonesia and the head doctor in Dede's case.

In the coming months, Dede will return to Hasan Sadikin hospital for at least two more major surgeries. Doctors will continue to work on his immune system and find ways to cope with the challenges of excessive bleeding during operations, the deep growth of his warts and the search for more skin donors.

It wasn't until Dede was a teenager that what started as a simple wart on his knee spiraled his life out of control. They started spreading over his entire body as a result of the human papillomavirus, or HPV.

It is a common virus that approximately 20 million Americans live with, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some without even knowing it.

"The wart gets into your skin and makes the skin grow out of control," said dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman. "It grows above the skin. It grows into the skin."

However in Dede's case, the warts had run wild, creating a medical mystery for doctors.

"Some people don't do well with the treatments because their immune system isn't that good at fighting the virus," Jaliman said.

Doctors diagnosed Dede as having an immune deficiency. It was, in a way, a "perfect storm" of dermatology. The combination of the incredibly common HPV and his incredibly rare immune deficiency caused Dede's warts to form growths that resembled tree bark and roots -- growths that eventually took over control of his body.

Soon Dede lost the ability to perform daily functions, or even hold his children, because of the weight of his hands and feet.

He lost his job and left his village to earn a living the only way he knew how -- begging on the city streets.

It was there that he met Hanny of Hanny Enterprise, an organization that hosts the most sensational carnival-like shows in the country. Dede became a rising star, known as Tree Man.

Ironically, Hanny's success at building Dede's fame as Tree Man may have lead to his medical treatments.

Doctors became as curious as the public and the media were about his condition.

American doctor Anthony Gaspari is part of the team that set a plan in motion to treat Dede to "control the tumorous growths and to restore his immune system," he said at an earlier news conference.

"We have a lot of room to improve the patient's condition and improve the quality of his life, improve his appearance, improve his ability to use his hands," Gaspari said.

Hospital staff today say Dede is in good spirits, has put on healthy weight and is happy to be returning home.

Though it's unlikely that Dede will ever be free of all traces of disease, his treatment will give him a chance to go back to his village, to be with his family and friends and lead a new life approaching normal.

For more information about warts visit the American Academy of Dermatology and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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