The parents of young Rahul Perumal from India's Tamil Nadu state say it happened for the first time just nine days after their only son was born. But since that time, the young boy from Nedimoliyur has inexplicably burst into flames, suddenly and for no apparent reason, at least three more times, baffling doctors in an extremely rare case of what appears to be spontaneous human combustion, also known as SHC.
The Hindu reports that Rahul initially appeared to be in good health upon birth, with no obvious signs of any major health problems. But one afternoon, just nine days after entering the world for the first time, when Rahul's mother Rajeshwari was washing her daughter in another room, screams bellowed from where Rahul had been resting, and a neighbor came bursting into the room with news that the boy was on fire.
"There was a flame on his belly and his right knee, and my husband rushed with a towel to put it off [sic]," Rajeshwari recently explained to The New York Times (NYT) about the incident, recalling the harrowing words of her neighbor who exclaimed as she ran into the room, "Your baby is on fire!"
Young Rahul was immediately rushed to the hospital, where doctors were obviously perplexed as to the cause of the boy's sudden ignition. Rahul was eventually released after having his wounds properly treated, and Rajeshwari and her husband took their baby back home. But Rahul burst into flames several more times in the days and weeks that followed, ultimately forcing the family to move to a new village.
"People thought I set him on fire deliberately," recalls Rajeswari, adding that neighbors and others in the area became frightened that Rahul would eventually burn down their houses and other buildings. But after being thoroughly examined, Rahul's parents were eventually vindicated of these accusations, upon which they told the public that they would never be "crazy [enough] to burn our own baby."
Spontaneous human combustion is rare, but it does happen
Following his four episodes of spontaneous combustion, three-month-old Rahul is now being cared for at the Kilpauk Medical College Hospital (KMC) in Chennai, where doctors are treating his extensive burn injuries with external applications of ointment. In the meantime, an investigation into the cause of the burns has revealed SHC as a likely cause, as such cases have indeed occurred throughout history, albeit rarely.
"We researched online and found that over the past 300 years, 200 such cases were reported," says Dr. R. Narayana Babu, head of pediatrics at KMC. "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. 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."
As far as Rahul is concerned, doctors plan to educate the boy's parents on the best ways to avoid future ignitions, including teaching them how to properly clothe him and carry him around town to avoid him suddenly lighting 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," adds Dr. Babu.
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