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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lionel the Lion Faced Man: A Case of Hypertrichosis

Abnormalities in human variation sometimes provide shocking visual examples of various medical conditions. At the MedFriendly Blog, the extremes of human variation have previously been highlighted here, herehere, and the case of the lady who grew horns. Another good example is the little known case of Stephan (Stephen) Bibrowski, known by his sideshow name “Lionel the Lion Faced Man.”

As you can see from his shocking visual appearance, Lionel was covered with hair, so much so that he could actually comb the 8-inches of hair on his face to completely cover his nose and style it in a way to appear lion-like. He had about four inches of hair hanging from other parts of his body besides the face. The only parts of his body that were not covered with hair were the soles of his feet and the palms of his hands.

Lionel was doing what he could to deal with a very difficult medical condition known as hypertrichosis.
Hypertrichosis is a technical term that refers to an abnormal amount of hair on the body. While we all probably know of people who are abnormally hairy, Lionel had a more extreme version of hypertrichosis, which is often referred to as werewolf syndrome because it can cause people to take on the appearance of a werewolf. Unlike lions and werewolves, many people with hypertrichosis have few teeth, which was the case for Lionel.

Children born with extreme versions of hypertrichosis face rejection from society, including from their own family. For example, Lionel’s mother  rejected him and gave him to a show manager at age four, who named him Lionel the Lion Face Boy at the time and showed him around Europe as a circus freak . He later wound up on display at Barnum and Bailey’s circus in the early 1900s. Although many would naturally feel sorry for him, he reportedly enjoyed his fame. He was known to be shy, polite, and intelligent, able to speak five languages fluently. He died at age 41, although there are varying accounts as to the cause.

Some people like Lionel are born with hypertrichosis and in those cases, there is no cure. In other people, the condition is acquired over time and can be treated if the cause can be found (e.g., a reaction to medication). In some people, like Lionel, the excessive hair growth covers nearly the entire body whereas in other people the excessive hair growth is localized to one area of the body.  Various hair removal techniques are available for temporary and permanent hair removal.

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