February 9, 2023

Mohammad Kaleem, eight, from India, suffers from localised giantism. It causes his hands and arms to grow to a disproportionate size.

Villagers believed he was cursed, branding him a ‘devil’s child’. He has now been helped by a local surgeon who has reduced his hands

An eight-year-old boy suffering from a rare form of giantism, which caused his hands to grow disproportionately large, has undergone dramatic surgery to reduce them.

Mohammad Kaleem, who lives with his parents in a small village in Jharkhand State, eastern India, was born with the condition which saw his hands and arms grow until they weighed a colossal two stone between them.

As a result of his illness, Kaleem has been bullied by his peers and was even refused admission to school because his hands would ‘scare’ other children.

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Getting help: Kaleem takes a playful pose whilst being examined at Ganga Hospital in Coimbatore, where doctors will attempt to scale back the size of his hands and improve his standard of living

The family has also suffered the wrath of superstitious neighbours in their remote village, who believed Kaleem’s large hands to be the result of a curse, branding him a ‘devil’s child’.

‘The school teachers said they could not take Kaleem. They said his huge hands will scare other kids. So he was denied admission,’ said Mohammad Shamim, Kaleem’s father.

His parents earn a modest wage, even for the impoverished area in India where they live, and they have not been able to to cover proper care for Kaleem on their £15-a-month salaries.

However, after Kaleem’s story made headlines in several international newspapers, the eight-year-old has finally been helped by medical experts in south India, who recognised his condition as macrodactyly, or localised giantism.

Bullied: Mohammad Kaleem, eight, was born with a rare medical condition called macrodactyly, or local gigantism, which has made his hands grow to huge proportions

Suffering: Kaleem and his father, Shamin, who earns less than £15 per month and spends the majority of his time caring for Kaleem

Kaleem’s parents said that they had almost given up on medical help and were living with what had happened to their son as ‘God’s will’.

Towards the end of last year, the Mohammad family were introduced to Dr Raja Sabapathy – a pioneering hand surgeon who is known for his expertise in micro surgery. Dr Sabapathy took on the challenge to help improve Kaleem’s hands.

This x-ray shows the extent that local gigantism has affected the growth of Kaleem’s hands

‘Dr Sabapathy gave us hope after seeing Kaleem. He was the first doctor who told us that some sort of remedy was possible to help our son,’ said Haleema Begum, Kaleem’s mother.

A new documentary follows the family as they travel thousands of miles from their village to Tamil Nadu, to see Dr Sabapathy and his team of expert surgeons at Ganga Hospital, Combiatore.

In one of the most complex cases ever seen, Dr Sabapathy and his team were faced with finding a way to reduce the size of Kaleem’s hands and fingers, without damaging any of his nerves, so that he would still be able to use them.

‘We decided to go for just one hand to begin with. This was our best way to assess the condition,’ said Dr Sabapathy. ‘At the same time, we did not want to affect the boy’s mobility.’

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The film follows the family as Kaleem faces an eight hour surgery to debulk his forearm and hand, and further surgeries to reduce the growth plates so that his hand and fingers would not grow any further.

But in the family’s home village, superstitious residents remained convinced Kaleem had been cursed and that surgery would be useless.

‘There is no treatment for this boy. He is a devil’s child. This is just because his parents must have committed a wrong deed at some point in their life,’ said Mohammad Kaleem, Shamim’s brother.

Other villagers also believed in the myth. But Kaleem’s parents decided to follow Dr Sabapathy’s advice.’

We knew that there is no such thing as a devil’s child. The villagers love to gossip and that is what they are doing about our son. Ultimately, he is our son and we have to take care of him,’ said Shamim.

Work in progress: Dr Sabapathy and his team were faced with finding a way to reduce the size of Kaleem’s hands and fingers, without damaging any of his nerves

First step: Kaleem is placed under anesthetic during his first round of surgery at Coimbatore Hospital, where doctors begin to de-bulk his arms and hands, in November 2014

In surgery: A doctor holds up Kaleem’s oversized hand during an operation to make them easier for him to use

The documentary follows Kaleem as he undergoes a series of difficult operations, and having physiotherapy to try to help him use his new hand. Now, the family is considering further surgery on Kaleem’s left hand.

But in their village, Shamim and Haleema were faced with the challenge of overcoming negative reactions of family and neighbours so that Kaleem could settle back into normal life.

Amanullah Khan, a village elder, said: ‘It seems that a solution is possible. Here in the village, we thought that the boy was cursed by God. But we think there is a change of fortunes now and the boy might have a better future.’

New life: After hearing that Kaleem, pictured before surgery with his father Shamim, had undergone operations, the local school has said that they will offer him a place again

Change: Kaleem uses a cellphone during his first round of surgery at Coimbatore Hospital

Getting better: Kaleem shows his hand to doctors who check it after the first round of surgery

Shamim is now optimistic that his son will finally be able to have a normal schooling.

Mohammad Sabir, the local school headmaster, said: ‘We know Kaleem. He had tried to take admission in the school, but for certain reasons we could not accommodate him. We’ve now had news that he is being treated.

‘With improvement in his hand, we feel that he can begin classes. We are also instructing our schoolchildren to not bully Kaleem.’

‘The Boy With the World’s Biggest Hands’ is on Tuesday, August 11th, 9pm, Channel 5

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