Dr. Morbius’s Rare Blood Disorder

Last week we profiled Morgan Hampton, who works for DC Comics, providing the writing for the uber cool character Cyborg. Marvel Comics has its own universe of characters, of course, and our archivist Richard Atwood has written this week about Marvel’s Dr. Morbius, as he appears in the 2022 Columbia Pictures “Morbius,” staring Jared Leto. It’s available for free with a Netflix subscription, and iTunes for a rental fee.

Morbius, like people with hemophilia, has a rare blood disorder.

Richard writes:

Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) is born with a rare blood disorder that has no cure. Since his childhood in Greece, and subsequent schooling for gifted children in New York City, he has needed crutches to barely walk. After earning a doctorate at age 19, Morbius discovers which DNA he is missing. As a leading authority on blood, he creates artificial blood, for which he is receives a Nobel Prize nomination, an honor that he rejects.

At Horizon Lab, he conducts research and sees patients. Funded by his childhood friend Lucien (Matt Smith), who he re-names Milo, Morbius conducts expensive, illegal and unethical experiments in a laboratory aboard a cargo ship that is sailing in international waters, thirteen nautical miles off the coast of Long Island. Morbius, along with his colleague Dr. Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), mixes human DNA with vampire bat DNA that he collected in Costa Rica. These bats feed exclusively on blood and have an anticoagulant in their saliva. When Bancroft injects Morbius with the mixed DNA serum, he adopts the characteristics of bats, assuming great speed, agility and strength, and echo location. When agitated, he assumes the physical characteristics of bats, especially their impressive fangs and claws, which he then loses when he returns to calm.

Morbius, after turning into the bat-like creature, kills the entire security detail of eight thugs on the research vessel, and drains their blood. FBI agents arrest Morbius for these murders, and place him in the Manhattan Detention Complex, from which he escapes.

Milo, the true villain of the story, wanting simply to live longer, takes Morbius’s serum and hungers for blood. He drains the blood of his victims, killing them. Morbius is accused of these additional murders and becomes known as the “vampire murderer” in NYC. Still on the run from the police, Morbius creates two doses for an antibody that inhibits ferritin and induces massive iron overload and instant hemochromatosis. When Milo bites Bancroft to drink her blood, Morbius injects the antibody into Milo, killing him. Bancroft, turned with red eyes, remains alive.

Morbius in the Marvel comics version is actually a villain for Spider-Man. The uncredited supporting cast is composed of millions of bats who come to the aid of the antihero. The movie had two wins and four nominations for awards. The budget of $75 million was surpassed by the world gross of $167 million. The rare blood disorder and its missing DNA are never identified, though drinking artificial blood is a treatment that lasts only six hours for Morbius.

And from me (Laurie), likewise, a blood transfusion from a person without hemophilia would stop a hemophilic bleed only temporarily, as the blood is used up. The lesson? Use your factor if you have hemophilia! It won’t turn you into anything except healthy.

Hematophages from Around the World

It’s Halloween season again, and always a fun time to look at the lore of blood-drinking creatures, known as hematophages. In the past we’ve looked at the relationship between vampires and hemophilia—some studies even thinking the lore of vampires may be started with cases of hemophilia, unknown at the time. What are other blood-drinking creatures from different cultures? I found this summary on the internet:

The Chupacabra, from Latin America, which drinks goat blood. It’s a bear-like creature with spines on its back. This myth dates back only to 1995, when a farmer in Puerto Rico found dozens of his sheep drained of their blood with small circular incisions on their bodies.

A Rokurokubi

The Baobhan Sith, a fairy in Scottish lore that drinks human blood, and usually appears as a beautiful young woman wearing a long green dress that conceals the deer hooves she has instead of feet.

Rokurokubi is a kind of Japanese apparition, whose name means “pulley neck.” By day these are regular women. By night, their bodies sleep, while their necks stretch to amazing lengths and roam around. There are two types; the others’ heads come off and fly about, and feast on blood.

Lamashtu is a Mesopotamian goddess/demoness that drank the blood of children. She is depicted as a mythological hybrid, with a hairy body, a lion’s head with donkey’s teeth and ears, long fingers and fingernails, and the feet of a bird with sharp talons. 

Jubokko, another Japanese apparition, was once a normal tree that eventually absorbed the blood from battlefields, and became alive as a spirit. Afterward, the tree only craved human blood. When someone passed by, the tree grabbed them with its long branches, pierced their skin, and sucked out their blood.  

Yara-ma-yha-who, a creature from Australian Aborginal mythology.  The creature looks like a red amphibian- man with a very big head, large mouth with no teeth and octopus-like suckers on the ends of its hands and feet. It lives in fig trees and, like the Jubokko, waits for an unsuspecting traveler to rest in its shade. The creature ambushes the traveler, using its suckers to drain his blood. Then, it swallows the traveler, and goes to sleep. Upon waking, it regurgitates the victim, who is alive, but shorter, and who in time becomes a Yara-ma-yha-who.

And finally, we return to vampires, the kind we are more familiar with, but from China. A jiangshi is known as a hopping vampire, created from a corpse when a cat jumps over it! It moves about by hopping with its arms outstretched, kind of like Frankenstein’s monster. It kills living creatures to absorb their qi, or life force. Like the vampire folk tales we are familiar with in the west, they prowl about at night, and sleep in coffins or dark places such as caves in the daytime.

All cultures seem to love a good scary story, don’t they? And blood seems to always be a component of scary tales—I had a few of my own when raising a child with hemophilia!

The Curse of the Cobalt Moon

Excerpted from PEN, 11.20

Here’s another Halloween treat in hemophilia! The Curse of the Colbalt Moon by Lou Hernandez (Austin Macauley Publishers, 2019) is a fictional book for teens, that includes vampires and hemophilia!

Rodolfo Josue Puig, who goes by “Joshua” to fit in, is a high school junior living in South Miami. Born in Cuba, Joshua was only nine when he was specially airlifted with other Cuban children to America in 1960. With no family members to help him, Joshua lives in a foster home. He loves playing on the varsity baseball team. Like his grandfather, Joshua has hemophilia that he treats with a daily injection of fibrinogen. After a fight with a teammate, Joshua is suspended from the school baseball team for his hemophilia, not because of the altercation. From a classmate, also from Cuba, Joshua learns that he is a “docile” half-vampire because his human mother married a vampire.

On the hunt night of the cobalt moon, hostile half-vampires (having a human father and vampire mother) drain the blood from docile half-vampires to become full vampires. Joshua and his classmates (some are also docile half-vampires) make many fatal errors of judgment while fleeing for their lives, but they eventually escape. Apparently, being a docile half-vampire improves baseball skills and reduces the bleeding due to hemophilia! The treatment of hemophilia seems inappropriate for the 1960s, and the genetics of vampires is never fully explained.

But every vampire story is a bit different, isn’t it?

Hemophilia: From Vitalism to Vampires

Halloween season is here! I’m already seeing decorations going up of ghosts, ghouls and… vampires. Vampires are steeped in horror lore, because they thrive on human blood. And blood has fascinated humankind throughout its history. I thought I’d run a post from almost ten years ago, about vampires, blood and hemophilia.

Dracula’s next victim!

Blood at once attracts and horrifies; it is the stuff of legends and tales, myths and medicine. I recently read the classic Dracula [read the book review below] and was amused to read how Dr. Van Helsing wanted to help the young Lucy, a victim of a vampire, by giving her a transfusion of blood. “Is it you or me?” he asks Dr. John Steward, about which one will roll up their sleeve to donate. Steward replies, “I am younger and stronger, Professor. It must be me.”

Steward offered his blood based on the concept of vitalism, that blood contains the traits of the being in which it flowed—a concept that was unchallenged for 1,500 years. Later in the book, Van Helsing says to Lucy’s fiancé Arthur, “John was to give his blood, as he is the more young and strong than me…. But now you are here, you are more good than us, old or young, who toil much in the world of thought.
Our nerves are not so calm and our blood so bright than yours!”

So Arthur becomes the better blood donor because he is calm and not scholarly! Of course, this is nonsense, but author Bram Stoker fell for the widespread belief in vitalism when he wrote his book. Dracula isn’t so picky; he pretty much would drink anyone’s blood.

Douglas Starr tells us in his book Blood* that the Egyptians saw blood as the carrier of the vital human spirit, and would bathe in it to restore themselves. Roman gladiators were said to have drunk the blood of their opponents to ingest their strength. “Our own culture attaches great value to blood, with the blood of Christ as among the holiest sacraments, blood libel as the most insidious slander, the blood-drinking vampire as the most odious demon.”*

Vampires… which are repelled by garlic and crucifixes (the two seemingly have nothing to do with one another). Yet rather than secure eternal spiritual life by consuming wine that has been transformed into Christ’s blood during Christian mass, Dracula drinks human blood to extend his physical life. 

The only thing scarier than vampires is the proliferation of teen movies about vampires!

*Starr, Douglas (2012-09-05). Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce (Kindle Locations
97-101). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Great Book I Just Read

Dracula  [Kindle]

By Bram Stoker

This classic, wonderful and visionary, has inspired an entire genre of books and movies. Jonathan Harker, a young English lawyer, is summoned to Castle Dracula in Transylvania to finalize a real estate transaction with the eerie Count Dracula, who is purchasing property in London. Harker is warned by local peasants, who give him crucifixes and other charms against evil. As a guest, Harker soon notices strange things: the Count has no reflection, is never present in daylight, and scales the castle walls downward, like a lizard. Unable to escape, Harker is soon a prisoner, until the Count reaches London, with 50 boxes of earth. The novel is told only through letters and diary entries of the main characters, including: Harker’s fiancée, Mina Murray; her friend Lucy Westenra, who is bitten by Dracula and slowly turns into a vampire; Dr. John Seward, Lucy’s doctor and once beau. Harker reappears in Budapest and eventually returns to London. Dr. Van Helsing, an expert on vampires, is called in from Holland to help save Lucy. Everyone realizes Dracula’s scheme to populate
London with the “Undead”—vampires. When Mina is bitten, and begins to turn into a vampire, the men sterilize the boxes of earth, set about London. Dracula, having no haven to stay when dawn comes, flees back to Transylvania, while the men pursue him. This is a fantastic story, though the language is not lofty or even that clever, with memorable characters, and cleverly told in letters and diaries. Perfect October reading. 5/5 stars.

When Hemophilia Prevents Vampirism*

I love reading books, and have already hit my target for 35 books this year. History, nonfiction, biography, exploration and rock bands seem to attract me the most. I hope to cram in about two more before the year is out. One I may try is Mari Mancusi’s Blood Ties: A Blood Coven
Vampire Novel. 
Our friend and colleague Richard Atwood sent me a synopsis and commentary on this “young adult” book, which includes a main character who has hemophilia. That fascinates me and makes me want to read it.  I can easily accept the fantasy part (vampires and fairies) but have a hard time when someone mangles the science. I mean, science is science.  Here’s the rather convoluted plot:
Sunshine McDonald, or Sunny, a teenager with a freckled nose and long dirty blond hair, is enrolled in Las Vegas High School. Her formal name is Princess Sunshine of the Sidhe Light Court of Tir na nOg. Sunny is the royal daughter of Queen Shrinking Violet. Sunny has wings and can
fly because she is a full-blooded fairy. She also has a twin sister named Rayne with black hair.
Rayne, the only known vampiric fae in existence, wants to be a vampire slayer and recently attended a two-week vampire 12-step rehab program. (You gotta love that) Sunny was bitten by a vampire – she turned into one for six days due to mistaken identity with her sister and then became mortal again, or was cured, after drinking blood, whose antibodies help the human cells, from the Holy Grail in England. There she met Lord Magnus, Master of the Blood Coven. Sunny loves Jayden, a mortal with green eyes and black hair who earlier saved her life. Jayden has hemophilia. (How does that relate to the plot? I’m sure I don’t know!)
Jayden is bitten by a vampire, and to save him, Sunny allows herself to be bitten again (who is doing all this biting?) to provide blood for the first time. Jayden is ill. Lord Magnus explains Jayden’s condition to Sunny: “He’s stable now,” he replies. “But I don’t know for how long. I don’t know if it’s because of the manner in which he was bitten or his hemophiliac blood disorder—but his human cells aren’t properly bonding with the vampire ones. Meaning he’s not really a vampire. But he’s not really human either.” Maybe hemophilia interferes with turning into a vampire?
Jayden needs transfusions for his vampirism (not for his hemophilia). Sunny provides more of her blood using a syringe and blood bag (sadly Sunny did not follow universal safety precautions!), but the cure for Jayden is to drink from the Holy Grail. The trio set off to England
but the Holy Grail is stolen and taken to Tokyo for the impending war with the vampire Consortium. In Tokyo Sunny rescues her
abducted twin sister and prevents the war between the vampire factions. Good job, Sunny. Before the Holy Grail is blown up in the Japanese temple
by the Consortium vampires, Sunny transfers to Jayden some of its blood by kissing him, thus curing him of being a vampire. Sunny asks Jayden how he is feeling once they return to Las Vegas: “One hundred percent,” he says, looking slightly bashful. “Except for the fact that somehow in the transition my hemophilia went away.” What?!
Richard writes: This description of hemophilia is just as unrealistic and unbelievable as the rest of the story, but that will not deter its popularity
with teen readers as they somehow relate to a romantic fairy princess who kicks butt. The YA novel is part of on-going series about these vampire and fairy characters, including the character with hemophilia. The Emmy Award winning author and television producer lives in Austin, Texas
with her husband.
And I’d like to know: does Mancusi know anyone in Texas with hemophilia? Who’s the real life model for Jayden? Inquiring minds want to know. I’m pretty sure Mancusi didn’t read my book on hemophilia, which has no section on vampires.
Maybe a good stocking stuffer for your young adult reader with hemophilia? Blood Ties: A Blood Coven Vampire Novel by Mari Mancusi, 2011, New York, NY: Berkley Books. 231 pages.
*Just kidding folks. Hemophilia does not protect against vampirism! Buy yourselves some garlic.
Great Book I Just Read
The Little Prince
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
A fable developed during the real-life crash in the desert of Saint-Expury’s plane, this story has become a beloved classic. The little Prince is a visitor from another planet who appears in the desert, keeps the aviator company until he is rescued, and dispenses worldy wisdom with simple observations and visits to other planets, each small and occupied by only one person or animal. Lessons include:  to think outside the box, look at the world and its people with your heart, and my favorite, “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed”.  Five/five stars.
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