The 21-year-old, who lives in China, allegedly lived with the anomaly because his parents believed it was “lucky.”
“They were superstitious, so they didn’t deal with it,” the man, identified as “Ajun,” told AsiaWire. “They thought if it really looked too bad, I could just cover it with my shoes.”
Having an extra finger or toe is called polydactyly, with the extra digits ranging from a small raised bump to a complete formed finger or toe, according to Seattle Children’s. There are three different types of polydactyly, depending on where the extra digits are located. Typically, children with the condition are treated in early childhood, with surgery depending on how the extra digit is connected to the hand or foot.
Ajun, who reportedly stopped wearing sandals at age 10 due to insecurities, said his parents believed that the extra toes were a “gift from heaven,” and refused to let doctors operate after birth.
“It’s very rare to see such a serious deformity having not been treated in a 21-year-old patient,” Dr. Wu Xiang, of Shunde Heping Surgical Hospital, where Ajun recently sought help, told AsiaWire. “Other hospitals would’ve just removed his outermost extra toes. That would’ve been the easiest solution, but it wouldn’t look best.”
Xiang and his team decided to create a new big toe rather than remove the extra digits to give Ajun a typical-looking foot after living for two decades with shame. It took nine hours for the surgeon to complete the procedure, which Ajun said is “perfect.”
Xiang said that, in his opinion, it’s best to medically intervene shortly after birth for patients like Ajun, rather than wait until adulthood.
“Surgery can happen as early as 1 year old, but no later than 6 years old,” he told AsiaWire. “Basically anytime before they start school is fine. This is better for the child’s psychological well-being, but earlier operations also lead to better recovery results.”
Ajun said his newfound confidence will help him find a relationship, and that he is “very happy.”