Weird Wood: Condition scratches mystery illness surface

By Laura Wood

Medical mysteries can be some of the most intriguing things we encounter in the world, especially for one woman who is the only person known in the world to grow nails on her face.

Actually, the nails don’t just grow out of 28-year-old Shanyna Isom’s face; they grow out of every hair follicle on her body.

Isom suffered an allergic reaction to a dose of steroids that caused an overwhelming itch to take over her body after an asthma attack in 2009, according to the full-time beautician and former University of Memphis law student’s website. It wasn’t long before she was left covered in hard scabs as every single hair follicle began producing 12 times the normal number of skin cells.


Isom visited every specialist around who offered hope for a cure, including one in the Netherlands, but the mystery remains and no one knows exactly what’s wrong, according to several news reports, including one from the Huffington Post.

No matter what they treat her for, be it eczema or a staph infection, all the doctors tell her the same thing: they have never seen a case such as hers. She is the only person in the world with her illness, and she will have it for the rest of her life.

Her condition doesn’t even have a name. Talk about isolation.

Isom’s skin isn’t the only thing this mystery condition has affected. It has also left her 200 pounds lighter, hardly able to see and unable to walk without a cane or get out of bed without help.

Countless doctor visits and genetic tests revealed that Isom was in fact producing human nails where hair should grow, and a visit to a new primary care doctor in Memphis, Tenn., last year sent her to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore where she began to receive continuous treatment, according to her website.

While the once-a-month treatments have Isom telling reporters and website visitors she feels about 25 percent better with a face that merely looks like it has a bad sunburn, travel costs and medical bills have scraped a hole in her family’s savings account. Turning to church family and generous donations for help, Isom is worried she might not be able to continue such frequent care.

However, Isom’s is just one story of a condition with unknown causes and cures.


Brooke Greenberg just turned old enough to get her driver’s license and first job in January, but the 16-year-old has a mysterious condition that has kept her riding in strollers and car seats since she was born. She weighs 16 pounds and is 30 inches tall. Her mental age is estimated between 9 months and 1 year old, and her father told ABC the only things that grow are her hair and nails.

There is also such a thing as a tree man, and the cause of his condition went unknown for 20 years, according to a CNN Health article.

Indonesian man Dede Kosawa’s body sprouts tree-bark-like warts primarily on his hands and feet. His hands resembled short, yellow-brown tree branches, and his feet looked like a tree’s roots.

Insects even began to live and nest in his wood-like growths, University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore dermatology chief Anthony Gaspari said in the article.

Doctors thought a genetically inherited immune defect and a type of human papillomavirus caused Kosawa’s condition, and numerous tests revealed he had a deficiency of white blood cells, which are important in the body’s ability to fight infections. The test showed that the 36-year-old’s weakened immune system is the reason it couldn’t fight the HPV that invaded Kosawa’s body.

Being the only person in the world with a specific mystery condition can be a lonely and unique experience, but it also creates a good opportunity for others to count their nails, toes and blessings and remember life could always be worse.