Chinese man Huang Chuncai (born December 29, 1977) has the most extreme case of neurofibromatosis ever recorded. With a massive 25 kg tumor hanging from his face to his waist, he became famously known for being “China’s Elephant Man.”
Chuncai’s medical condition has prevented him from living a normal life. Sadly, he can barely move, eat, or even sleep. When he walks, he has to hold his growth. To help reduce the size of his growths, Chuncai has had a total of four major surgeries (from 2007 – 2013).
What is neurofibromatosis?
Neurofibromatosis (NF) is defined as a group of three different types of genetic diseases that can potentially cause the formation of tumors on nerve tissue. Unfortunately, the tumors can cause severe bone and skin abnormalities (as seen in the image above). The three different types of neurofibromatosis are neurofibromatosis type 1, neurofibromatosis type 2 and schwannomatosis.
The man with the world’s largest facial tumor
The early years
Chuncai was born in the southern parts of Hunan province (a province of the People’s Republic of China). At the young age of 4, his parents started to notice signs pointing to some sort of an illness. Eager to find out what was wrong with Chuncai, they took him to a hospital where he was eventually diagnosed with neurofibromatosis.
A condition that went out of control
Despite the presence of Chuncai’s large growth, doctors were reluctant to perform surgery. They believed that an operation would too dangerous because due to the large size of the tumor, there was a high chance of heavy bleeding. Unfortunately, even if the doctors were willing to perform an operation, Chuncai’s parents could not afford it.
His tumor continued to grow rapidly. At the age of 8, Chuncai attended school. Not only was his tumor growing at a rapid rate, but it also left Chuncai feeling alienated by children in his school. They would make fun of him and even call him the “elephant man.” At the age of 10, all of the bullying by his classmates drove him to quit attending school.
Chuncai is offered money to perform as a “circus freak”
Due to Chuncai’s bizarre condition, his parents were offered money if he was willing to pursue a career in circus freak-shows. However, unlike many others who were given the opportunity to perform in sideshows, Chuncai was not interested. Instead, he was humiliated by the offer, and considered committing suicide. All he wanted was to live a normal life.
A series of lifesaving surgeries
At the age of 25, Chuncai lost his teeth. His tumor had gotten so massive, his left eye was hidden. At the age of 31, Chuncai’s tumor weighed 15 kg. The tumor eventually reached a whopping 25 kg. Sadly, the pressure of the tumor on his spine stunted his growth, making him only 4 feet tall. The pressure also gave him a hunchback.
Finally, in 2007, doctors at the Fuda Cancer Hospital in Guangzhou decided it was time to remove the massive tumors.
Chuncai’s four facial surgeries
With the help of the Chinese Government, Chuncai was able to get facial surgery.
#1 (July 2007)
Chuncai’s first operation took place in July of 2007. A team of surgeons removed a 33 lb. tumor that was located on the right side of his face.
In 2008, an operation was performed to remove a 10 lb. growth also located on the right side of his face.
#3 (late 2008)
Chuncai’s third operation took place in late 2008. The tumor on the left side of his face was removed.
#4 (December 2013)
Finally, on Christmas day in 2013, yet another tumor was removed from his face. The size of the tissue was 3.3 lbs.
Chuncai’s surgeries were a success, and have helped decrease the size of his tumor to just 7 pounds. His lighter face makes it much easier for him to eat. Chuncai has plans to earn money by helping his family sell noodles in the local market.
Amazingly, of Chuncai’s 25 kg tumor, 21 kg have been removed. He was expected to have two more operations.
Where is Chuncai now?
If you are online searching for an updated article on Huang Chuncai’s progress, you won’t be able to find any information more recent than March of 2017.
The great news is that as of 2017, Daily Star reported Chuncai was becoming accustomed to his appearance, and has been leading a relatively normal life after his four operations. He has also turned down offers to appear in “freak shows” in China.
The sad news is that despite all of Chuncai’s amazing progress, his growths were starting to develop again.
There have been no new reports of any future operations. As soon as we get any information, we will immediately update this article.
Perhaps due to the serious risks involved, Chuncai decided not to schedule any more surgeries — at least for now.
Note: This post was last updated on October 18, 2020 (originally published on 4/3/16).
Other extreme cases of neurofibromatosis
Below are pictures of other serious cases of neurofibromatosis. While each case is extreme, none are as severe as Chuncai’s.
Houston man Reggie Bibbs (born August 17, 1964) was born with an extreme case of neurofibromatosis. The disease left him with a deformed leg, an extremely disfigured face and tumors all over his body.
For decades, Bibbs hid from the public in fear of not being accepted. In December 2017, an Uber driver refused to pick him up because of his deformities. Fortunately, after reluctantly accepting an invite to a baseball game, his many years of hiding from the public came to an end.
During an interview with a news station in Houston, Bibbs talked about his unexpected experience. “When I went to the Astros game, it was totally different from what I expected,” said Bibbs. “For 40 years, I hid. I didn’t know that people are really there willing to accept me. I didn’t give them a chance.”
Bibbs believes his disorder has made him a better person. Despite it being difficult to live with every day, he says he wouldn’t change a thing.
Adam Pearson (born January 6, 1985) is a British actor who lives with a severe case of neurofibromatosis type I. He has an identical twin brother who does not have the disorder. Throughout Adam’s life, he has been a victim of bullying. Today, he is involved in various outreach programs to help prevent bullying associated with deformities.
Latest video on Chuncai
If you’re interested in this topic, you should go back and read this post on human deformities.
While the size of Chuncai’s tumor earned him the nickname “China’s Elephant man,” he was determined to do whatever was necessary to improve the quality of his life. Thanks to several successful operations over the years, Huang Chuncai is finally on his way to living a normal life.