The Origin Of The Fugate Family And The Treatment For The Blue Skin.

For nearly 200 years, the Fugates, also known as Kentucky’s blue people, were largely isolated from the outside world as they passed down their blue skin from generation to generation.

Nurses and doctors were shocked and perplexed when Benjamin “Benjy” Stacy was born in 1975. Benjy was born with dark blue skin rather than the bright crimson skin of most babies. Doctors were so concerned about Benjy’s unusual skin tone that they summoned an ambulance to transport him the 116 miles from his hometown outside Hazard, Kentucky, to the University of Kentucky Medical Center.

The doctors were no closer to understanding why little Benjy’s skin was blue after two days of testing. “Have you ever heard of the blue Fugates of Troublesome Creek?” asked Benjy’s grandmother.

Benjy’s father, Alva Stacy, explained to the doctors at the time, “My grandmother Luna on my father’s side was a blue Fugate.” It was particularly bad in her.”

Benjy Stacy was the latest in a long line of Fugates – the blue people of Kentucky – who had lived in Kentucky’s Appalachian mountains for the previous 197 years.

Martin Fugate, a French orphan, was the first Fugate in the United States, settling in Troublesome Creek in the hills of eastern Kentucky in 1820.

Troublesome Creek, where the Blue Fugates have traditionally resided.

He married Elizabeth Smith, who was said to be as pale and white as the mountain laurel that blooms in the creek hollows every spring.

Unbeknownst to either of them, they both possessed a recessive gene that resulted in four of their seven children being born with blue skin. There were no roads in rural eastern Kentucky back then, and a railroad wouldn’t even reach that part of the state until the early 1910s.

As a result, many Fugates started marrying and having children within their own bloodline.

“It was difficult to get out, so they intermarried,” says Dennis Stacy, an amateur genealogist and Fugate descendant.

Benjy is a descendant of Martin’s son, Zachariah, who married his mother’s sister.

This type of genetic isolation allowed the Fugate family’s “blue skin” gene to continue reproducing and expressing itself.

The Fugates continued to live in relative isolation for the next hundred years or so, and were accepted by the people of Troublesome Creek.

The Fugate family tree.

“They looked like anyone else, except they were blue,” one resident said.

The Quest For A Cure

However, by the early 1960s, some blue Fugates were beginning to resent their cobalt-colored skin. Not only did their skin distinguish them, but people had already begun to associate their skin color with the family’s history of inbreeding.

In search of a cure, two Fugates approached Madison Cawein, a hematologist at the University of Kentucky’s medical clinic at the time.

“They were very embarrassed to be blue,” Cawein recalls. “Patrick was hunched down in the corridor. Rachel had her back to the wall. They refused to enter the waiting room. You could tell how much they disliked being blue.”

Cawein was able to conclude that the Fugates had a rare hereditary blood disorder that caused excessive levels of methemoglobin in their blood by using data from studies of isolated Alaskan Eskimo populations.

Methemoglobin is a nonfunctional blue version of the oxygen-carrying red hemoglobin protein. The red hemoglobin in most Caucasians’ blood shows through their skin, giving it a pink tint.

The Fugate family’s skin turned blue due to an excess of blue methemoglobin in their blood.

How recessive genes are transmitted.

Because this blood disorder is caused by a recessive gene, it is necessary for both parents of a child to have the recessive gene for the disorder to manifest in their offspring. This disorder would be extremely rare in their bloodline if not for the Fugates’ intense isolation and inbreeding.

Cawein devised a treatment for this condition: more blue. Methylene blue dye, contrary to popular belief, is the best chemical for activating the body’s process of converting methemoglobin to hemoglobin. The Fugates he treated ingested this dye, and within a few minutes, the blue coloration of their skin faded and turned pink.

These blue people of Kentucky could live their lives normally as long as they continued to take the substance’s pills on a regular basis.

Benjy’s skin color began to change to an average baby color within a few months of his birth. He had lost nearly all of his blue coloring by the age of seven, indicating that he had received only one copy of the gene from one parent.

Benjy Stacy at 37.

Benjy most likely inherited this gene from his father’s grandmother, Luna.

“Luna was pale all over. Her lips were the color of a bruise. “She was the bluest woman I’d ever seen,” said Carrie Lee Kilburn, a local nurse.

Though Benjy and the majority of the Fugate family descendants have lost their blue coloring, the tint still appears in their skin when they are cold or angry. In those moments, the blue Fugates of Kentucky’s legacy lives on — a legacy of adversity, isolation, and perseverance.

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