Three-month-old has gone up in flames four times so far; under treatment for extensive burn injures

Rajeswari’s joy knew no bounds when she gave birth to a healthy boy. Nine days later, she found him on fire, literally, and scampered to douse the flames.

“People thought I set him on fire deliberately,” says Rajeswari, who hails from Nedimoliyur, a hamlet in Villupuram.

The baby went on to suffer three more similar accidents following which the village community ostracised Rajeswari and her family.

The child, Rahul, now three months old, is currently at the Kilpauk Medical College Hospital (KMC) and is being treated for extensive burn injuries.

He suffers from an extremely rare condition called spontaneous human combustion, doctors at KMC say. R. Narayana Babu, head of paediatrics at KMC, says the baby was referred to the hospital by the Villupuram collector.

“The dean got a call from the collector and the child came to us on Thursday evening. We researched online and found that over the past 300 years, 200 such cases were reported. The last reported case was of a 73-year-old man who died in his sleep, after going up in flames, in Wales, England, in 1995,” he says.

In the paediatric intensive care unit where Rahul is admitted, the authorities have placed a bucket of water and a fire extinguisher near the baby’s bed to tackle any emergency.

Terming it a ‘rarest of rare occurrence,’ Dr. Babu says, “It has been scientifically documented that concentrated combustion air excreted from the body could result in such episodes. In elderly persons, heavy drinking could lead to the body excreting alcohol-like substance which could get ignited.”

Rahul is now being treated with external application of ointment for his burns. On Friday morning, the head of plastic surgery at KMCH, J. Jaganmohan, examined him.

Doctors say the parents will be trained to take care to prevent exposing the child to situations that could cause him to go up in flames. “We have to teach them to avoid sending the child out in the sun and specify the kinds of clothes he can wear when he grows up,” Dr. Babu says.

Rajeswari’s husband Karna is an agricultural labourer in a village near Puducherry. The couple also have a two-year-old daughter who is now in the care of Karna’s father.

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