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Tree Man

I don’t know if anyone watched TLC before it became obsessed with weddings and baking, but if you did you will know who “Tree Man” is. TLC used to air many shows about people who suffered from strange health conditions, one of them being Dede Koswana, who was originally exposed to the public on Discovery Channel. Dede is an Indonesian man who has dealt with uncontrollable warts since he was a teenager when he cut a cut on his knee. Since then the warts have grown to create things that look like tree branches and bark growing mostly on his hands and feet but also on the rest of his body. Dede did not have enough money to raise his family so he ended up joining a circus with other people affected by skin deformities and they put on a type of ‘freak show.’

Doctors in his small village didn’t know what was wrong and he was left untreated for 20 years. Dermatologist Anthony Gaspari, from University of Maryland, travelled to Indonesia to try and treat Dede. He discovered that the warts were caused from a form of human papillomavirus, HPV. Unfortunately Dede also suffers from a genetic immune system deficiency, which means his body did not have enough white blood cells to fight off the condition. Finally Dede underwent surgery in his home country that involved sawing off the warts. After surgery he had much more movement and independence but the warts were going to grow back. After his original surgery I am not 100% positive what happened, I found various things and there is not too much information about him after the show aired on television.

I think “Tree Man’s” story brings up a very good connection between science and the media. Doctors saw his story as something to experiment and cure. Doctors in Indonesia had been confused for 20 years what was wrong with him, yet for those 20 years the media didn’t really pay his much attention. Then all of a sudden in 2008, Tree Man was on the television all the time and he had captured the public’s attention. Yet today as I look to find more information about him, its not there, he has lost his time in the lime light. Dede probably still has this problem and still a type of science experiment as doctors try to find his cure, but is no longer making headlines. I find it interesting that a man and his disease could just be a fad and come and go with popularity. Thoughts about his connection between a science story and the media that portrays it?

Here is a related article and video about Dede.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. October 21, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    I’ve been watching TLC for years, before it turned into the wedding/baking obsessed channel that is now and although I never heard anything about “Tree Man,” I did watch other people with strange health problems on various shows. I think that it’s great that these people can receive the necessary care after being publicly shown, but since it is the entertainment industry, the shows featuring these people can be quite ridiculous. For example, instead of pepole thinking of this man as Dede Koswana, everyone knows him as “Tree Man.” I find this interesting because even though the media is portraying science, it is doing so in a way that will be more entertaining for people to watch. I think that science journalism, though sometimes misleading, is mostly informative and has the goal of educating people. TV is very different from journalism however, and it is composed of less information and more entertainment. It can be great for getting people’s attention, but it is not the best source of real educational and meaningful lessons. I have been learning about this is my media class from the School of Media and Public Affairs, and I had never thought about it from a science news perspective (we mainly focus on political and local news) but it seems to remain true for all types of news media.

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