At 15 years old, Dede Koswara was learning to be a fisherman. He was learning how to build things. He was a happy boy living in Indonesia. Then he cut his knee. It was all downhill from there.
His knee took a long time to heal, and a wart formed where the abrasion used to be. Then more warts formed around it. He went on with his life, became a fisherman and builder, got married, had a couple of kids. But his problem got worse and worse. More warts grew on top of even more warts, and over the course of several years, despite treatment from local doctors, Dede was overrun with warts that looked like tree bark, earning him the nickname “The Tree Man.”
Dede lived for 20 years with this condition, which is basically an HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) infection that raged out of control because of Dede’s compromised immune system. When American doctors first started treated Dede they assumed that he had AIDS – for what else could compromise Dede’s immune system so? Tests showed that Dede does not have AIDS, so his immuno deficiency is a mystery.
Dede’s growths weren’t painful, unless they get tangled up or hung up on something. But they just kept growing – and bugs nested in the bark-like tangle of what used to look like feet. His hands got so bad that he couldn’t feed himself. He can’t touch his children. His condition is not contagious – in fact nobody in his family has gotten a single wart – but the growths are so rough and hard that he cannot experience tactile sensation through them.
So an American dermatologist named Anthony Gaspari worked with the Indonesian government to get some treatment for Dede. In January of 2008, Dede underwent the first of what will be 8 surgeries to try to remove the 4-12 pounds of warts on his slight 100-pound frame. After the first 4 surgeries, Dede was able to hold a pen in his hand and write. He was able to hold a fork, and at least the outline of his feet were visible.
Unfortunately, the doctors don’t see a full recovery in Dede’s future. Gaspari hopes to get Dede a Visa and get him over to the United States for further testing to see if they can identify and treat Dede’s immune disorder, which is truly the root of all his trouble. If they can fix his immune system, his body will fight off the HPV, and he won’t grow any more warts.
An ABCNews article says that doctors are skeptical that Dede will ever be cured. Even with the surgeries, he still has a solid covering of warts.
Dede hopes someday to be cured enough to find a nice woman to fall in love with and marry. His first wife, the mother of his children, left him when his growths raged out of control.