The body of 37-year-old Dede Koswara, nicknamed “The Tree Man of Java”, was ravaged by a rare virus that caused enormous root-like “cutaneous horns” to grow from his arms and legs. The warts became so large that he could not work, walk properly or use his hands.
Dede, who lives in the village of Tanjung Jaya about 100 miles south of the capital Jakarta, first noticed the growths after he cut his knee as a teenager. A small wart developed on his lower leg and spread uncontrollably. In 1993, he was taken to a hospital but doctors where unable to find a cure. Eventually he had to give up work as a builder and fisherman. Sadly, he ended up squeezing out a living working for a local freak show. His wife of ten years left him as it became impossible for him to support her and their two children.
Return to a normal life
Dede’s plight was highlighted in a TV documentary in late 2007 when American doctor Anthony Gaspari was taken to visit the stricken fishermen. He concluded the Tree Man’s affliction on was caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a fairly common infection usually causing only small warts. Dede’s problem was that he has an extremely rare immune system deficiency, leaving his body unable to contain the warts. The problem is thought to affect less than 200 people worldwide.
On Dr Gaspari’s advice, doctors at the Hasan Sadikin Hospital in Bandung, West Java successfully performed four operations to remove Dede’s growths and ensure they do not grow back. Dede can now see the outline of his toes for the first time in over a decade after more than 4 lbs of warty horns were cut away from his legs and feet. He has also become a sudoko addict now medics have cut growths from his hands allowing him to hold a pen.
Dr Rachmat Dinata, the skin specialist leading the Indonesian doctors, said the final phase of operations should be completed in around three months. They will take skin from Dede’s back and thigh and graft it onto damaged areas. After 20 years of suffering, Dede is now looking forward to resuming a normal life and has said his first priorities are to find a job, meet a girl and get married.