Dede Koswara was born healthy. But at age 10 – after he fell and scraped his knee in the forests of Indonesia – small warts sprouted around the wound. Slowly, they spread to his feet and hands.
For years, he watched helplessly as his limbs broke out in a swath of grotesque bark-like warts that sapped his energy and limited his mobility. Now he shuffles along on blackened, bloated feet – a prisoner of his own mutinous body.
At one point, he seemed to sprout contorted yellow-brown branches 3 feet long. Koswara, it appeared, was becoming half-plant — turning into the verdant green jungle around him.
His mysterious ailment cost him his marriage, career and independence. He was forced by his poverty to join a traveling freak show, billed as the Tree Man of Java.
He suffers from a double whammy: the common human papillomavirus, a condition that usually causes small warts in sufferers; but also a rare immune deficiency that allowed these lesions to run wild. Last year, Indonesian surgeons used an electric saw to cut off 13 pounds of warts and decaying matter. But it all grew back again.