It might seem like a scene out of James Cameron’s Avatar movie, but real-life blue people existed once. One rural family in Kentucky had blue skin color just like the cartoon Smurfs or the aliens in Avatar. The blue skin color was the result of a rare genetic condition that traveled through generations due to inbreeding.
The University of Indiana’s Cathy Trost revealed this shocking incident in an article called “Blue People of Troublesome Creek” which was published in Science 82 magazine in 1982. Their story gained mainstream attention in 1975 after Benjamin Stacy known as Benjy was born with dark blue skin which was even reported by ABC News. The baby was then transferred to the University of Kentucky Medical Center because doctors thought the baby’s blue skin pigmentation was the result of some hazard.
According to the researchers, the genetic condition is known as methemoglobinemia which results in blue discoloration. In these rare conditions, red blood cells contain an abnormal amount of methemoglobin which is a form of hemoglobin unable to carry oxygen to the tissues. In this way, tissues do not receive enough oxygen which results in blue skin or purple lip coloration.
However, this methemoglobinemia gene is super recessive. So, it won’t show in their future offspring if two family heads carrying the methemoglobinemia gene married each other. But the family members initiated inbreeding and incest due to extreme isolation. All That’s Interesting reported that in the 20th century, eastern Kentucky didn’t have roads or railroads to connect it to the other parts of the community.
The ‘blue’ family was called the Fugates. One of the Fugate descendants named Dennis Stacy told Science 82, “When they settled this country back then, there were no roads…it was hard to get out, so they intermarried.”
The descendants of the first-generation Fugates were bothered by the way they looked. So, they asked for help from Madison Cawein who was a hematologist at the University of Kentucky’s medical clinic. He administered them to take methylene blue dye which converts methemoglobin to hemoglobin. Reports say that within just minutes of ingesting methylene blue dye, their skin color turned normal. It was like a cure for their condition.
Benjy Stacy got rid of the blue color skin by the age of 7. He said that he got one gene from one of his parents and that’s why his skin turned normal as he grew older. However, sometimes his lips and fingertips would turn blue due to extreme cold or anger.