I Got a Plush Megacolon for my Birthday

By on November 18, 2016

A fuzzy, lovable version of the giant, diseased megacolon specimen on display at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia.
Plush megacolon from the Mutter Museum gift shop
I Heart Guts: Plush Megacolon from the Mutter Museum

Last week was my birthday, which luckily happened to coincide with my sister spending a few days in Philadelphia on business. I am developing an obnoxious habit of hijacking her trips for Cult of Weird content, but in this case I didn’t have to say a word – she was already planning to visit the Mutter Museum while she was in town.

Lowly web lackeys like myself can’t afford to do things like travel, so while the Mutter has always been on my bucket list, the closest I’ll probably ever get is reading about it. But that bleak reality was softened a bit yesterday when I checked the mail and found a plush megacolon from the Mutter gift shop!

Obviously I have the best sister in the world.

But what the hell is a megacolon, you ask? The answer is equal parts fascinating and horrifying: It is an unnaturally large segment of dried and stuffed intestine on display at the Mutter Museum that belonged to a man who died of the disease in 1892.

Here’s what the museum has to say about their specimen:

This colon belonged to a 29-year-old man who had complained of constipation for most of his life. The condition he endured is known as congenital aganglionic megacolon, or Hirschsprung’s disease. It occurs when nerves to part of the colon fail to develop and making it difficult for waste to move to the rectum (aganglionic means “without nerve cells”).

This man was a normal infant up to the age of 18 months, with the exception of a rather large abdomen, coupled with some irregularity of bowels and some constipation. His condition progressed, with the severity of the constipation increasing along with the size of his abdomen. By the age of 16 he would go up to a month at a time without any bowel movements. At 20 he was exhibited at a dime museum as the “Wind Bag” or “Balloon Man.”

During this man’s lifetime, doctors knew that his ailment was not a tumor but rather a defective colon. Surgery to identify and fix the cause would have been extremely risky. He ultimately died of the condition, and was found dead in a bathroom where he was attempting to pass waste.

In Hirschsprung’s disease, only a small section of the colon is usually affected, but the body is unable to transfer normal amounts of waste to any point below the affected section. Chronic constipation ensues. This condition occurs in 1 out of every 5000 to 8000 births. However, today, it is usually identified soon after birth as the baby will have a distended bowel. It is easily corrected with minor surgery in which the affected portion of the bowel is removed and the “good ends” are sewn together.

Plush megacolon from the Mutter Museum

Megacolons are adorable.

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