Symbrachydactyly: Born With Short Fingers or Nubs and Normal Thumb


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Back of right hand affected by symbrachydactylyPalm of right hand affected by symbrachydactylyTiny nails on tips of fingers affected by  symbrachydactyly
Back of right hand affected by symbrachydactyly
Back of right hand affected by symbrachydactyly
Palm of right hand affected by symbrachydactyly
Palm of right hand affected by symbrachydactyly
Tiny nails on tips of fingers affected by  symbrachydactyly
Tiny nails on tips of fingers affected by symbrachydactyly

Born With Short Fingers

The moment when your first child is born is a life-altering moment in any parent's life. When I was born, in the mid-1950s, there was no ultrasound test. So, the first thing people wanted to know about a new baby was: is it a boy or a girl?

Once the sex was determined, they checked to see that everything was in place. With all limbs accounted for, it was time to move on the fingers and toes count. I did not pass this test. I still wince a little when I hear people say of their perfect new baby, "he has all of his fingers and toes."

They Are Only Fingers

It was just a little thing; I actually have all of my toes. It's just that the four fingers on my right hand are short, ending just about where the first knuckle would be, the thumb is perfectly normal.

As physical handicaps go, it's not much to complain about. However, it was alarming for my parents at the time. They took me to many doctors and specialists in the first couple of years of my life.

At that time, the only thing the specialist told them was that it was a congenital amputation. The only treatment he could offer was a surgery that was just cosmetic.

They could lengthen the fingers so they would appear more normal, but surgery would damage the nerves, making my hand less useful than it already was. Being loving and intelligent parents, they chose to leave it alone.

My hand actually works fine, I can perform most normal tasks, and I type 50 wpm, a perfectly adequate speed.

Dealing With Other People is the Worst Part

The greatest impact my short fingers had on my life was social. Before I started school, I was not self-conscious about it at all. I would even tell people, "I have a tiny hand."

Once I started school though, I found that kids would stare, and many of them avoided me as though it were contagious. They would get used to it after a while, and the reactions became less pronounced.

Each fall when school started again I would have to repeat the process. I think all of this made me more of an introvert than I otherwise would have been, and I began to hide my hand in my pocket when meeting new people.

Sad little girl
Sad little girl | Source

What Is Symbrachydactyly?

In my life, I have never met anybody else that had this condition. I have never consulted a doctor about it; after all, it is what it is.

Physicians I have gone to for other reasons have been more curious than anything, but they have not had much information to offer me. It is only because of the Internet that I have learned anything more about it at all.

My own self-diagnosis is that I have Symbrachydactyly, a congenital hand malformation that occurs in 1 in 32,000 births. In most cases, only one hand is affected.

The cause is unknown, but scientists think that it may be due to an interruption in blood flow to the fingers of the fetus during the first weeks of pregnancy. That is when the paddle-like structures on the arms of the fetus are dividing into fingers. There is no known way that the mother can cause her child to have Symbrachydactyly, and no way she can prevent it.

Symbrachydactyly is not genetic, so it does not run in families. I know that no one else in my family has it. I have three children, all with normal hands.

It seems that my case is mild, as I do have usable fingers. In some cases, there are no fingers at all. Sometimes there are on tiny nubs where the fingers would have been. Sometimes, the fingers are conjoined or have webbing between them. I did not have that. Some babies with Symbrachydactyly are born with part of their arm missing, and they may have tiny fingers or nubs on the end of the arm.

What About Surgery?

Surgery has advanced since I was a baby; children born with Symbrachydactyly are often treated with surgery. If they have short fingers, the fingers can be stretched. Sometimes a toe will be transplanted to the hand to provide a finger for the thumb to pinch with.

I have mixed feeling about surgical treatment. My gut feeling is that, if possible, something permanent like surgery should be postponed, at least until you can see how the child functions with the hand he has.

I am sure it is a very difficult situation for any parent to be faced with, but surgery is hard to undo, and toes are important too.

In addition, I would strongly discourage the removal of finger nubs. I think many people choose to do it because they are uncomfortable with how the nubs look. That is not a good reason to have surgery performed on your baby.

Doctors and parents often say they are concerned that the nubs will get caught on things. I am afraid that reason could be used as an excuse. Just take your time and ask your physician what the disadvantage would be if you waited, do not rush into surgery.

I am not at all saying that no baby with Symbrachydactyly should ever have surgery. I just think that parents may feel like there's something wrong with their baby and they need to "fix it" right away.

It's unlikely that child's hand will ever be completely normal. The options should be carefully weighed since the child cannot speak for himself, and he's the one who will have to live with the result.

Even if nothing is done, just like other people with limb differences, he will adjust to whatever he has. There's no reason a kid with Symbracydactyly cannot do anything he wants to do, and have a perfectly normal and happy life.

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Comments 44 comments

john schoon 7 weeks ago

my mother her mother my sister all have what some call club hands

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Sherry Hewins 5 months ago from Sierra Foothills, CA Author

That's interesting Raymond Smith. So, it is not caused by a recessive gene. Nobody can be just a "carrier," without having the condition.

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Sherry Hewins 5 months ago from Sierra Foothills, CA Author

Thanks for commenting Lidija. I understand exactly what you are saying. I felt very isolated when I was a kid. Those feelings were a lot more of a handicap than my little fingers. Now parents have FaceBook groups where they can share experiences and even get together to let their kids see other kids that have the same thing. I hope this helps the new generation of syms have more confidence.

Raymond Smith 5 months ago

Hi I have the hereditary version of brachydactyly with fingers simialar to yous my mother and 3 of her sisters were exactly like yours . I was in a DNA research prog in 2001 and they found that 60-70% with the hereditary version had a common ancestor We were also informed that although it was hereditary it could not be passed on by family members with normal fingers M y sister has not passed it on to her children , but our cousins have .I tried to track it back thru ancestors but it is not possible for me . I have a copy of a medical journal from 1857 listing 6 generations .


Lidija 6 months ago

Hi, there is more of us :) I'm almost 30 and even though I have been using the internet for years, I'm just starting to find out about symbrachydactyly. Actually, after the initial reading, it seams there isn't much to find out. But what makes me keep reading are other people like you and me. I wish someone have told me when I was younger that I'll be able to play the guitar or find boyfriends and friends regarding my attitude and not my hand appearance. I did a lot of intended self-depreciation thinking that I would protect myself from others rejecting me if I do it before they do, I think that was the worst what I experienced through the sym. package. Now I deal differently with it and somehow even feel cool about it. The main reason I'm writing this is my wish to tell to all younger and/or worried symbrachylors or their parents that it's not that much of a deal and from the moment you fully believe it it starts to be true. Thank you for the article

Tyler 13 months ago

Hi I'm actually quite similar but I'm missing to the first knuckle on my left hand and my thumb is perfectly fine too! I had the same problem in school up until about 7th grade. I learned to just deal with it. Hell I even made jokes to make people laugh. I'm 18 now and I workout and I'm going to college and working out and I can do anything anybody else can and it doesn't hold me back at all. I'm glad I was born this way that's what makes me me.

Angela 13 months ago

Thanks for this! I'm almost 24 and this affects my left hand and I never knew what it was called! My parents and I never did anything about it and I adjusted very well and even play piano pretty well. The only other thing I have noticed is that the nerves don't seem to be as sensitive as they are in my other hand so that extremes in temperature are not felt until they are either too hot or too cold and then it goes straight to pain. Other than that I just have short fingers... everything is fully functional :) Thank you for sharing this!

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Sherry Hewins 13 months ago from Sierra Foothills, CA Author

Ms Angee - Congratulations. Your son is very lucky to have a fully functioning hand, even though his fingers are smaller. If he has a strong personality, my guess is that he won't have too much trouble with other kids. They tend to pick on the weak. Best wishes for you and your family.

Ms Angee 13 months ago

My 17 month old son doesn't have the dactlyly as you, but he has something as his fingers on his left hands are smaller than the other hand. The thumb appears to be regular size but its hard to tell since he is still a baby.

They are fully formed and functional fingers just smaller. I never noticed it, his dad noticed it when he was about 5 months old. Of course I searched far and wide to find out what it could be. I found nothing. His doctor thinks it's nothing more than asymmetry.

Nevertheless, my concern immediately went to how are other kids going to treat him in school, etc. I still worry about it, but I don't really know what the end result will be with this because he has soo much growing ahead. Reading your story is inspiring and I know he will be strong and confident no matter what because his family will make sure he is.

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Sherry Hewins 18 months ago from Sierra Foothills, CA Author

Well, she certainly found a profession where her hands were not a handicap. As I said though, getting acceptance from others is the hardest part; I'm glad to hear that she succeeded at that too.

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TIMETRAVELER2 18 months ago

I had a cousin (now deceased) who was born for nubs on both hands and both feet. She was a professional singer, vocal coach and pianist! Amazing, huh?

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Sherry Hewins 18 months ago from Sierra Foothills, CA Author

Jen Adcalf - Congratulations on your engagement! How wonderful that this happy occasion has also caused you to take that step closer to accepting yourself. It sounds like you have wonderful and supportive people in your life. I know what you mean about showing the ring, I have always been uncomfortable with shaking hands. My affected hand also has less "grip" than my unaffected one.

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment on my story. We are a small percentage of the population; it is good that we support one another.

Jen Adcalf 18 months ago

Hi Sherry, I really enjoyed reading your story and was relieved to discover that I'm not the only person with this condition. Like you, I only learned the name of the condition recently on the internet. I have Symbrachydachtly (still getting used to the spelling!) in both hands, but I don't think my case is as severe as some. I am still able to do pretty much everything a 'normal' person would do, with the exception of pull-ups as it seems to affect my ability to lift my upper body! The main obstacle for me has been coming to terms with being 'different'. I think my parents had a similar attitude to yours and wanted not to make an issue of it, therefore it was never really spoken about, although I have always felt loved and accepted by them. In fact, I had not spoken to a soul (apart from my sister and now fiancé) about my condition until very recently. I finally had to open up, as the event I had feared my whole life was about to happen - my boyfriend was going to propose to me. I had lived in fear of being asked to see 'the ring' and people inevitably then noticing the secret I had tried to hide my whole life. In fact, the process of wearing a ring that means so much has forced me to start to accept myself as I am, and not to hide away anymore. Every person that I've since spoken to has been nothing but supportive and surprised that I had let this slight abnormality blight my entire life. Anyway, I'm sorry this is so long, but I wanted to share my story after being inspired by your honesty. I hope others who have similar struggles will find this encouraging.

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Sherry Hewins 19 months ago from Sierra Foothills, CA Author

j the peculiar 7 - Thanks for taking the time to comment. I am glad you found a way to accept your hand difference. There are a few of us around, and I think most of us do very well. Hey, lots worse things could have happened. I think my life is pretty blessed.

j the peculiar 7 19 months ago

Hey sherry im joey 26 from so cal and i to have the same condition same story also before my teen years i was cool with my hand being like that never really thought nothing of it had a normal life growing up many friends played sports ride bikes ect then i started getting real real real subconscious about it hid my hand in my pocket just like u but then i found GOD and realized its part of his plan i don't think of it as a birth defect i think of it as a manifestation of GOD i bet ur really smart and extremely talented and creative arent u? Anyway thanx for posting this guess theres more us than u think :)

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Sherry Hewins 2 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA Author

Olemisspharm2015 - I'm sorry to hear that you hand kept you from being a surgeon, but I'm glad that you are moving forward. I hope you will find a specialty where your hand will not be an issue.

Olemisspharm2015 2 years ago

Sherry, this was a wonderful article! I too have a small hand (left hand) that the doctors believe was complicated syndactyly. I can relate to what it was like growing up with this type of visible deformity. Children are not nice usually. I used to be self conscious but I'm 23 now and no point in hiding it.

It has never really held me back from anything except once. It kept me from being able to live out my dream of being a surgeon. I'm currently in my third year of pharmacy school and I'm not letting this hand hold me back from helping people. I graduate in 2015 and will hopefully return to school for my MD and practice in pediatric bone and joint abnormalities.

Your hand is the closest I've seen to one that matches mine (however, I have had numerous corrective surgeries to separate bones and skin in order to have fingers). It is really encouraging knowing there are others out there not letting this slow them down!

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Sherry Hewins 2 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA Author

I am sorry you feel that way shree. You would need to speak to a doctor who specializes in reconstructive surgery. I hope you find what you are looking for.

shree 2 years ago

i also having same problem, my left hand side fingers are short & only 2 fingers, i can drive,,,use keyboard, don't have any problem, but its looking worst. so i want to do my hand as my right regular hand.

please tell me if any having ways to repair my hand...

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chuckd7138 3 years ago from Virginia Beach, VA

One of my friends from high school has this condition. On her left hand, the middle and ring fingers (or nubs) are slightly fused. On her right hand, her ring and pinkie fingers are full-sized.

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Sherry Hewins 3 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA Author

Maha, Congratulations on the birth of your son. I'm sure his future will be bright and all things will be possible for him.

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Sherry Hewins 3 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA Author

Pinkhairedladi, thanks so much for your comment. I'm glad you're doing well. Indeed we are lucky to have what we do.

Maha 3 years ago

Thanks for this! My son was born 3 months ago with this condition. He has 3 fingers on his left hand and his right hand has 5. I keep worrying about how his future will go. I actually did not know my son had missing fingers until the day of his birth. I love my son and I'm just happy he doesn't have a serious medical problem, it's just cosmetic. Inspirational reading! Thanks again for your words.

Pinkhairedladi 3 years ago

Hi, wow, I just read your story and it was like I wrote it myself. I too have symbrachydactyly and my right hand looks almost identical to yours! I'm 23 and i have never seen anyone else with a hand just like mine. Mine is highly functioning as well- i am a hair stylist and i actually hold my shears in my right hand to cut with! Until just recently I was terrified to research this condition. I was scared I would find it was caused by something my mother did during pregnancy or that it was related to some terrible genetic disorder that would kill me and I just didn't want to know! I just wanted to say how incredibly brave you are to write this and to show the whole world what you grew up trying to hide. I am truly inspired by you and I realize how fortunate we are to kind of have the "best case scenario" in this situation. I know it has made me a much stronger person and I'm sure it has you too! Best of luck and its good to know we aren't alone!

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Sherry Hewins 3 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA Author

jocelynh: I'm so happy that I've eased your mind. I wish you and your family all the best. I think your daughter can have a wonderful life.

jocelynh 3 years ago

You are my hero! My 2 year old daughter has symbrachydactyly. My husband and I still struggle with "did we make the right decision". We chose not to have a toe transplant done on her. You gave me a small glimpse of her future. A small weight has been lifted off of my chest after reading this article. Thank you!

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Sherry Hewins 3 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA Author

Louise Owen, I'm sorry I haven't answered before. I don't know how I missed your comment for so long. I'm so happy to hear that my story helped you, that was my intention in writing it. I'm so happy to hear that your son is doing well.

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Sherry Hewins 3 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA Author

Thanks for your comment TheDatingMom. I think lots of kid have things that set them apart from the others. I didn't help either that we moved a lot, so I changed schools almost every year.

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TheDatingMom 3 years ago from California

I loved this article. Thank you for sharing your story. When I was a child, I had a large mole on my forehead, between my eyebrows. This led to the nickname "bullet-head" as if someone had shot me. I grew bangs to try to cover it up but it didn't really help. I can relate to you putting your hand in your pocket and having to navigate each fall in school, with the reactions of other children.

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Sherry Hewins 3 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA Author

It was a little touchy, and personal. I actually wrote this in response to a weekly inspiration topic about medical conditions. I had already written one hub in response to that topic when it hit me, why had I not thought of this one first? I hesitated, but in the end went ahead with it. I kind of felt like I was coming out, since usually in my online life, unlike my regular life, nobody needs to know about it. Thanks for the up-vote.

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Winterfate 3 years ago from Puerto Rico

Wow, I'm not even sure what to say. I suppose I'll say that it's admirable how you've been able to write an article about what was probably a touchy subject for you while you were growing up.

Voted up and interesting! :)

Louise Owen 4 years ago

Hi Sherry,

Particular interest in this story for me as my son has two identical hands to yours - he is 3 years old and thriving doesn't effect him one little bit!

Both his hands have the thumb absaloutly fine and the rest of his fingers ending at the knuckles but with little nail tips on each - i have read up on symbrachydactyly olny from seeing a picture of your hand so thank you! my son seems to have things that differ slightly though as it has effected both hands and also one foot where he has completetly no toes just little nubbins. he walks great, he writes and excells in nursery but it is still very helpful to see storys like yours that i can show him when he starts too question rather than feeling useless in giving him answers. Thank you so much for sharing your story! stay in touch! xxxx

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Sherry Hewins 4 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA Author

The social part is by far the hardest Diana Grant. My little hand does not bother me at all.

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Diana Grant 4 years ago from London

I have never heard of symbrachydactyly before, and was so interested to read about it and how you have coped. Sometimes it seems that it is just as difficult to cope with people's attitudes as it is to deal with the actual disability, and you have done well

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izettl 4 years ago from The Great Northwest

my second child was born 9 months ago and I admit I was nervous. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and I take a couple of medications so side effects can happen to the baby just with mom having the arthritis alone. But thankfully there are so many tests and ultrasounds that I was fairly reassured during my pregnancy. But honestly you just want your baby to be healthy and sounds like you were/are so that's what's important. I'm not for cosmetic surgery because it suggests there is something "wrong" with the baby and you've proven that's not the case. I could not imagine putting my child through surgery when it's not absolutely necessary. Wouldn't even think of it.

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Angela Blair 4 years ago from Central Texas

Super informative Hub -- and can't tell you how much I admire your attitude. Sounds like your folks were on top of this although they must have had mixed emotions at the time as to whether they were doing all they could. As you have dexterity with the hand seems like they made a good choice -- and you approve it. Thanks for sharing this unusual condition and well written Hub with us. Best/Sis

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Sherry Hewins 4 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA Author

Hi Rochelle, I'm sure you're right that my parents did the best they could. It's hard even for me now to say what else could have been done. Maybe more exposure to strangers and some talk about what might happen in school would have helped me be more prepared. Maybe some playacting, what would you say if... Now if I see someone staring at my hand I will say, "Oh, you've noticed my fingers, do you want to have a closer look?" When I was a kid, if they didn't say anything, neither would I, and then it ended up a bunch of whispering behind my back.

I think with the internet, parents have access to more of a support group so they can exchange ideas about how to handle things. I hope this is helping their kids.

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Rochelle Frank 4 years ago from California Gold Country

I knew a girl in my school who had a small and misformed left hand. Three outer fingers were not fully developed and pretty much useless. She was very good at hiding it, and most people didn't even notice.

I remember one time in PE class we were learning gymnastics basics and the teacher had us vault over the 'horse', grasping the handles.

She, physically, could not do it because of her anomaly, and she fell every time. The teacher made her keep trying, again and again, while she fell hard each time. Those of us who knew her cringed and held our breath. I don't think the teacher knew what the problem was-- which was heartbreaking and almost unthinkable.

Her parents apparently wanted her to be treated like everyone else and perhaps didn't bother to inform anyone that she might have a few limitations.

In one way, this is probably the right attitude, but if no one helped her find a way to adapt to such a situation (or even knew that she needed to) it could have resulted in a serious injury.

Kids can be cruel, sometimes., but it seems that your parents handled the situation as well as they could, considering that they had so little information.

It's important to tell your story to help someone who might have a similar experience.

We should all be sensitive enough to realize that others may be dealing with challenges we can't really understand.

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Sherry Hewins 4 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA Author

Thanks for commenting Denise. I am very glad that my parents made the choice they did. I think most of the surgeries performed today are aimed more at improving function than cosmetics, so that's good. I was so accepted in my home and my neighborhood that it was a complete shock to me how the kids at school viewed me. I guess it's human nature to be suspicious of people who are different. I think maybe if my parents had known how, they could have prepared me for it better.

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Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

Sherry-thanks so much for this wonderful 'true story'. I'm so grateful that you had the courage to share it. I've never heard of this condition either, however, in my opinion your parents were solid-not influenced by the 'image' or the concern that people might "talk". How wonderful for you that, until you were brought into the environment of ignorant classmates, that you had a positive self image surrounding your different hand. It's too bad that we are such an image focused society that does not teach our children to embrace all people.

Kudos to you for doing your own inquisitive research on the subject. If it were me, I would leave well enough alone. It does have a very singsong type of name, doesn't it? :) Up/I/U and a great big: B

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Sherry Hewins 4 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA Author

beadreamer247: It's hard for kids who are different. It seems like difficulty hearing would be much more of a handicap that what I have, but your experience with your peers is similar to mine. I'm glad you learned from your experience.

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beadreamer247 4 years ago from Zephyrhills, FL

I never heard of this condition either, but I had a friend when my daughter was born and her boy's fingers were joint. They had surgery to separate them. I lost contact, so I don't know how it all went and so on.

Since I am hard of hearing since birth I know how children react and how difficult it is to handle as a child. I was being teased for my slurred speech, being so skinny (I could eat 3 bars of chocolate without gaining a pond - changed a lot nowadays....:() and since one of my legs is slightly shorter I had an "off" walk. But I also learned to be strong and learned my own lesson never to treat anyone like I was treated. In the end I don't want to miss my experiences - no matter how negative.

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Sherry Hewins 4 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA Author

Thanks for your comment JakeFrost. Since surgery is not necessary for me, further evaluation by doctors seems pointless. I appreciate your votes and welcome your following.

Thanks for the compliment billybuc. The condition is unusual, I hope someone finds my story useful.

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billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

Sherry, what a fascinating story. I have never heard of that condition before....never seen it on anyone as I'm sure I would have remembered. I love your outlook and the fact that you are writing about it. Who knows who might read this and need your words and your outlook on life. Well done!

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