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The pictures are striking. Streams of blood seem to flow from a 20-year-old girl’s eyes and spring spontaneously from her scalp and feet. Some say it’s a miracle. Some say it’s a mystery. Still others call it witchcraft or sorcery. And a doctor who examined her said it more likely is a manifestation of a mental illness called Munchausen syndrome.

Whatever it is, Dr. George Buchanan, who travelled to India to examine the girl called Twinkle for a special on National Geographic Channel, says it’s unlike anything he’s seen before in a long career as a paediatrician.

“This is really a first for me,” said Buchanan. “I can’t tell — I don’t know where [the blood] comes from.”

Elaborate hoax?
What Buchanan does know after observing two of Twinkle’s bleeding episodes is that neither he nor anyone else except her mother has ever seen the bleeding begin — only the results of it. And he wasn’t able to find any wounds or lesions in her scalp when the bleeding has occurred there. Pictures of the girl show streams of blood under her eyes — but not necessarily originating there.

The doctor said more tests are needed, but his surmise is that it may all be an elaborate hoax engineered by the girl or by the girl and her mother.

“I think this is something that has been purposely brought on,” said Buchanan.

There’s a medical term for what Buchanan suspects: Munchausen syndrome, named after Baron Karl Munchausen, a German nobleman who became famous in the 18th century for the fabulous tales he told about himself, including riding a cannonball and flying to the moon.

People with the syndrome imagine symptoms and may physically cause them. Alternatively, Buchanan said, Twinkle’s mother may be the one with the syndrome and could be transferring the symptoms to her daughter. Such transference is called Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

“I don’t know where the blood comes from. I can’t tell how. It seems to be her blood, but where it’s coming from, I’m not sure,” Buchanan said.

When asked if the girl’s mother could be involved in the mysterious bleeding, Buchanan said, “There’s good reason to think she probably is.”

No wounds
Buchanan is a paediatrician at the University of Texas South-western and Children’s Medical Centre in Dallas, and has more than 30 years of experience. When he was asked by National Geographic to go to India to examine Twinkle, he said he was dubious.

 “When I heard her story even before I left, it sounded very suspicious to me. I had not seen bleeding conditions like this before. The doctors in India suspected that as well,” Buchanan said.

Beyond that is simple medical fact: “When one looks at her, there’s no obvious cuts or scrapes or scratches or wounds; this seems to come right through the skin and the eyes, and medical science just has no good explanation for that. There’s no mechanism by which blood can spontaneously come through the skin and from the eyes as medical science understands it.

“This really does raise the question: Is this being faked in some way, or is the blood being placed there or put there by Twinkle?”

Since no one other than Twinkle’s mother — and perhaps her co-conspirator — has seen the bleeding begin, that remains the big question.

There are discrepancies in the accounts Twinkle’s mother gave of her daughter’s history, Buchanan said. The mother said she had to take the girl out of school when she began bleeding 2½ years ago — but, the doctor learned, Twinkle was removed from school before the bleeding episodes began.

Also, the mother described her daughter as being weak and sickly, but Buchanan saw her as a normal teenager — talkative, generally happy and interacting with others.

Buchanan said that Twinkle describes mild pain at times, but does not seem to suffer significant discomfort. But her life is clearly being disrupted.

“I feel bad for her. This has affected her life in significant ways,” he concluded. “I really think this is a psychiatric problem.”

Courtesy: National Geographic Channel, btv DOCS

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