My son was born with a 'turtle shell' on his back leaving docs baffled

Florida boy is nicknamed ‘little ninja turtle’ by his parents after being born with a ‘shell’ on his back due to genetic defect

  • James McCallum from Clearwater in Florida was born with a brown hairy growth 
  • Diagnosed at two months old he underwent his first surgery four months later 
  • READ MORE: Baby girl born with huge dark spots on body due to skin condition 

A baby born with a ‘shell’ growth on his back due to a rare skin condition has been nicknamed the ‘little ninja turtle’ by his parents. 

Eighteen-month-old James McCallum from Clearwater, Florida, suffers from congenital melanocytic nevus — which causes an abnormally dark, noncancerous skin patch to emerge.

It covered 75 percent of his back when he was born but grew rapidly and by the age of two months had become ‘fatter and lumpier’ and ‘like a turtle shell’.

The infant has had two major surgeries to remove it and is now receiving skin expanders to encourage his normal skin to grow over the damaged area.

James McCallum, now 18 months, was born with a growth on his back that made him look like a ‘little ninja turtle’. The youngster from Clearwater, Florida, was diagnosed with congenital melanocytic nevus

James is pictured above with parents Kaitlyn, 35, and Tim, 41. He has been scratching his back a lot on items at home due to the condition

Congenital melanocytic nevus (CMN) is a condition that affects about one percent of infants born in the US. But larger growths are much less common, affecting about one in every 50,000 births.

It is caused by the faulty development of pigment cells during the first trimester of pregnancy, leading to a benign, tumor-like malformation on the back.

If left untreated, growths on the back can also affect the brain and spinal cord leading to seizures. They also raise the risk of suffering from skin cancer.

CMN normally measures less than 0.6inches (1.5cm), but in James’ case, it covered some 75 percent of his back.

Kaitlyn McCallum, 35, gave birth to her son at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater on August 19, 2021, where he weighed 6lbs 4oz. This was when doctors first noticed the condition, which had not been picked up by ultrasounds.

She said: ‘It was a little concerning as it looked like something was wrong.

‘Before it was removed, it had grown rapidly and had become like a turtle shell on his back.

‘It got to the point that we had to sleep him on his side as he couldn’t put his head down flat because it was so bulky.

‘It covered 75 percent of his back at the start and it had started to get fattier and more lumpy — it seemed like it was growing.’

She added: ‘It looked kind of like a birthmark but scabbed over in parts – it was a little concerning as it looked like something was wrong.

‘The doctors didn’t really know what it was at that point.’

He has undergone two major surgeries to have the growth removed. Doctors are now using expanders to encourage his skin to start replacing the nevus

Initially, the growth meant he had to be put to sleep on his side. But he can now sleep on his back for the first time thanks to the surgery

Baby girl born with huge dark spots over body

Jireh Robinson was born in June 2021 with brown spots all over her body. She was diagnosed with congenital melanocytic nevus (CMN). 

As well as struggling to sleep, his parents said their son would also scratch his back at home repeatedly — because the growth was itchy.

They were also told that the growth had no sweat glands, which led them to limit how long their son could spend outside to avoid the risk of him overheating. 

After his diagnosis by a pediatric dermatologist, James was sent for an MRI scan to check whether the mass had grown internally and disrupted his brain and spinal cord.

Results from this scan gave the all-clear, however, which led doctors to move forward with two major surgeries to get rid of the mass.

He had his first when he was six months old and then his second three months later.

Mrs McCallum said: ‘He had to have an MRI of the brain and spine because one of the sub-conditions is internal growing on the brain or spine.

‘So, at two-and-a-half months old he had to go under anesthesia to have it done.

‘We were fortunate to get the results back that there was nothing happening.’ 

Speaking about the surgery, she added: ‘We were very happy with the results.

‘He was able to lay his head down flat, and he seemed a lot more comfortable.

‘They did tests of the removed skin and they came back negative for diseases, which was great.’

Doctors expect the youngster to be completely cured by his second birthday in August. He is pictured above at a local playground

The growth on his back is shown above. Doctors took two months to diagnose the condition

WHAT IS A CONGENITAL MELANOCYTIC NAEVUS? 

Around one percent of babies are born with a CMN. However, they are often much smaller. In some cases, they can be hairy.

CMNs are sometimes called ‘brown birthmarks’ by medics. They get bigger as children age.

They don’t usually cause any complications but they can be itchy. There is a slight risk of melanoma, though people with bigger CMNs face the highest risk – but it is still low. 

Dr Adil Sheraz, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson, told MailOnline: ‘The word melanocytic refers to being composed of melanocytes – these are cells that produce pigment or color. 

‘A naevus is another word for a mole. A mole that is present from birth is known as a congenital melanocytic naevus (or birthmark).’ 

Treatment is usually surgery to remove the blemish.

Full-thickness grafts may be required for large growths.

If surgery is not possible due to the size, location or thickness of the blemish, laser therapy may help to reduce pigmentation and make it less hairy.

Dermabrasion may also be used. This involves resurfacing the skin so it grows back smoother.

James is now receiving skin expanders to help replace the nevus with other skin across his back and to prevent it from growing back.

This involves placing two balloon-like structures into his back which are injected with fluid once a week.

These then gradually expand, causing his skin to stretch and grow.  

He received the treatment at a hospital in Chicago, which his parents traveled to. They are injecting the saline fluid into the balloons once a week.

He is expected to need the expanders until the end of this month.

Ms McCallum added: ‘We can now put nurse on our resume.

‘It was wonderfully seamless and convenient.

‘James was young enough to not know what was going on and he wasn’t that bothered by what was going on.

‘At first, you’re like ‘how on earth can I do this to my own child?’ but as you get used to it you’re like ‘thank God I don’t have to go to Chicago for three months’.’

It is expected that his condition will be completely cured by his second birthday in August, his parents said.

Ms McCallum said: ‘The doctor told us once it’s removed, it’s gone. He’s just going to have scars that will be minimal.

‘This condition a lot of the time occurs on the face and we felt fortunate that he only had it on his back.

‘Having this removed will give him the best quality of life. He’ll be able to tell a cool story about it and say it’s a shark bite or something.

‘We will definitely take the scaring over having to deal with this any day.’

‘We started that process in September 2022 and from what they told us they believe they can sort it out by his 2nd birthday in August.’

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