The medical term is sirenomelia, undoubtedly sharing some linguistic root with sirens from Greek epic poems. Sirenomelia, also informally dubbed “Mermaid Syndrome,” is a rare birth defect that fuses human legs together, creating a mermaid’s tail.
Doctors postulate that sirenomelia results when an unborn child is deprived of blood in the lower body. It’s similar, yet separately classified from sacral agenesis (caudal regression syndrome), where a fetus presents with lower spine malformation.
Sirenomelia is about as frequent as conjoined twins (1 in 100,000 live births), and around half of cases end in stillborn. There are many notable and famous cases of survivors. Notably, Tiffany Yorks is the longest-surviving patient to date (born May 7, 1988, put her at 24 at time of writing). Here are some other interesting cases.
Shiloh has something like celebrity status, having attained TV, internet, and other media coverage (namely Oprah) throughout her life (August 4, 1999 to October 23, 2009). Shiloh was only 1 of 3 cases of sirenomelia who survived without surgical separation of her legs. She lived in Maine and attended elementary school before facing a serious case of pneumonia and dying at the age of 10.
You can read more about Shiloh on her Facebook.
Milagros Cerron Arauco
Born in 2004 in Peru, Milagros is 8 years old (at time of writing). In 2005 to separate her mermaid’s tail into legs, she underwent a series of surgeries from February 2005 to September 2006.
Strangely, in gaining legs, she lost the ability to talk (sound familiar?). After her procedure on May 2005, doctors in Surquillo, Peru noted that some unknown psychological or physiological condition left Milagros unable to form proper speech patterns, leaving her mute.
I recall from a number of years ago a similar case. Sixteen-year-old Ariel was also rendered mute after a tenuous procedure to change her mermaid’s tail into human legs. Of course in that case the procedure was magical, not surgical. It’s still a little curious how reality and storytelling are entangled.
In September 2006, Milagros took her first steps. Her other reported that she knew more than 50 words. Her father Ricardo Cerron works in the Solidarity Hospital in Lima to pay for Milagros’s operations.
I recall that psuedo-documentary called “Mermaid, the Body Found” which presents a cell phone video of a mermaid in action (see above). More on that some other time.