Deep in the woods of Kentucky, a fiercely private family gave birth to blue-skinned children since the 1800s. The color of their skin was so shocking for normal people to see, that they chose to stay hidden away from the rest of society in their small community. Very few people knew they even existed, until today.
In 1820, French orphan Martin Fugate and his wife Elizabeth Smith moved onto the banks of Troublesome Creek, a beautiful area in Appalachian Kentucky. There is no official record documenting that Martin was actually blue, but he and his wife both carried a recessive gene that gave their son Zachariah Fugate a startling blue color. Martin and Elizabeth had seven children — four of them were blue. Since the gene causing their blue coloration is recessive, the family had a 25% chance of having a blue child with each pregnancy if Martin and Elizabeth were carriers. If Martin was blue, the odds would have increased to 50% for each child as Martin would have carried two copies of the recessive gene.
This is because of a condition called methemoglobinemia, which causes methemoglobin levels in the red blood cells to rise above 1 percent. It turns the skin blue, the lips purple, and the blood a chocolate brown. Methemoglobinemia can be triggered by exposure to particular chemicals (benzocaine and xylocaine, for example), but in this case, it was inherited and the product of a faulty gene that most probably caused a deficiency in an enzyme called cytochrome-b5 methemoglobin reductase.
In the 1960s, Dr Madison Cawein was able to test two Fugate descendants, Patrick and Rachel Ritchie. “They were bluer’n hell,” Cawein said. “They were really embarrassed about being blue. They wouldn’t come into the waiting room. You could tell how much it bothered them.” After conducting many blood tests, Cawein came to the conclusion that methemoglobinemia was the root of the problem, and determined that he could convert the methemoglobin back by simply injecting a missing…