Did the Vampire Myth Come from a Bleeding Disorder?

Let’s keep going with our vampire and bleeding disorder theme for Halloween!

My friend and colleague Richard Atwood of North Carolina found this novel for us.

Kate Neuman, 38, was raised in Boston and is a Harvard-trained, divorced hematologist at the Centers for Disease Control branch in Boulder, Colorado. Kate’s been a specialist in blood diseases for 15 years and is one of 15 top hematologists in the Western hemisphere!  

In May 1991, Kate is sent on a 6-week UNICEF and CDC International Relief Fund mission in Romania to investigate the orphan situation involving 200,000 babies, especially AIDS babies, and the adoption circus of gypsy babies being sold for, and then bought by, American parents. With the help of Father Mike O’Rourke, an American priest with a prosthetic leg, and Lucian Forsea, a Romanian medical student and translator, Kate focuses on Unidentified Juvenile Patient #2613, an abandoned, 7-month-old, nameless boy with an immune system disorder treated with whole blood transfusions.

Kate adopts the boy, names him Joshua, and brings him home to Colorado. Joshua, who responds to regular whole blood transfusions, undergoes MRI and CT exams showing a small appendix or abscess – a shadow organ – in the wall of his stomach that seems to absorb blood. Kate’s investigations show that Joshua has a critical shortage of adenosine deaminase (or ADA deficiency, a genetic failure on chromosome 20) that can be treated with PEG-ADA, a synthetic enzyme.

Kate presents at a CDC meeting her findings that a SCID (severe combined immunodeficiency) child, such as Joshua, can achieve an auto-immunological reconstruction with blood transfusion.

She concludes that this genetic mutation, which she calls the J-virus mutation, is the basis for the vampire myth.

Kate speculates that members of a family would have to ingest blood to survive, and that due to secrecy and inbreeding “the recessive-recessive traits would have been more frequent as a result, much as with the hemophilia which plagued the royal houses of Europe.”  Bypassing official approval, Kate injects Joshua with an artificial hemoglobin derived by genetic engineering that is as effective as whole blood.

Then in September, five intruders kidnap Joshua, injure Kate, and kill Tom, their nanny, and an AIDS researcher, plus burn her home and the CDC labs. Once recovered, Kate takes $18,000 in cash to Romania, and enlists the aid of Lucian and O’Rourke to recover her adopted son.

They learn that Joshua is actually the next “Prince of the Voivoda Strigoi,” or the heir apparent to the Father, also called Vlad Tepes, or Dracula. The strigoi disease is similar to the HIV virus, or what Kate calls the J-virus, a retrovirus that binds gp120 glycoprotein to CD4 receptors in T-helper lymphocytes. While desperately traveling around Romania trying to rescue Joshua before the child takes the Sacrament, or drinks human blood, Kate falls in love with O’Rourke, and is captured and then escapes from the strigoi. Then Lucian is killed. Kate arrives at Castle Dracula, or Poienari Citadel, before Joshua drinks human blood and the castle is set to explode. Just in time, Kate rescues Joshua, while O’Rourke steals a helicopter to ensure their safe escape.

Yet the aged Dracula, who injects himself with Kate’s hemoglobin substitute for rejuvenation, escapes as a giant bat to run his biotech firms in America!

This thriller novel delves into a complex medical explanation for a rare blood disease, one that causes vampirism. The vampires are called strigoi. The reference to hemophilia is not needed for the explanation of the J-virus. Kate risks her life, against huge odds, to retrieve her adoptive son, with a dangerous quest through Romania mountains, which adds more violence and excitement, even brief romance, to the novel.

This proves what a hematologist from Colorado can do!

Children of the Night. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 382 pages. By Dan Simmons, 1992.

Blood: From Vitalism to Vampires

Halloween has passed, and though it’s fun to see our friends’
and family’s children dressed in costumes on Facebook, there are plenty of
“shock” photos circulating on the internet of dummies smeared with blood—one
even prompted a 911 distress call, so realistic was it. Halloween conjures up
images of Friday the 13th movie characters as well as vampires.
Transfusion: Now that’s scary
Our business in hemophilia is blood. 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 who will roll up their sleeve to donate; Steward who
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 fifteen
hundred 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!”
Not so picky: Any old blood will do
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
I haven’t read this book since high school, and forgot how
wonderful and visionary it is. A classic, as it has spawned 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 Halloween reading. Five/five stars.

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