Octopus Man (7/12)

Wednesday 29th April 9.00pm

The documentary strand exploring remarkable tales of human experience continues. This edition follows the story of Rudy Santos, a Filipino man who was born with three extra limbs attached to his abdomen. At the age of 55, Rudy is beginning to suffer poor health as a result of the additional weight. Could his rare condition be killing him?

Once a star of mythical proportions, 55-year-old ‘Octopus Man’ Rudy Santos could command up to 20,000 pesos per night as the main attraction at a travelling freak show. Owing to comparisons with the god Shiva, Rudy became a national celebrity, with women lining up to be with him. Then, he disappeared. In hiding from tax officials, Rudy has not been seen for nearly a decade. But with his health in crisis, it could finally be time for Rudy to explore his mysterious condition.

After years on the run, Rudy now lives in a shack on a remote island 500 miles from Manila. “I’m not used to living in poverty,” he admits. “I don’t even have a proper cooking stove.” Rudy met his wife, Evelyn, while she was working as a magician’s assistant. The pair also have a daughter, Linda. Rudy has not shown his surplus limbs to anyone outside his family for years, but now feels ready to display them once more. Rudy has two extra arms and an additional leg protruding from his abdomen. “My limbs do move, but I don’t have full control over them,” he explains. He also points out his nails. “You will notice they are double-sided,” he says.

Rudy suspects the superfluous body parts are a partially formed twin brother. But the limbs are now beginning to become a burden. “Sometimes I have stomach attacks,” Rudy says. He is also losing weight uncontrollably, which has left him too weak to work. Rudy has never seen a specialist doctor, but with his health and the welfare of his family at stake, he has agreed to visit a surgeon in Manila. As the family prepares for the two-day trip, Rudy is apprehensive – he suspects his extra limbs may be killing him.

When he arrives in the capital, Rudy is shocked by how much has changed in his absence. The following day he meets with Dr Vicente Gomez, a surgeon at the Philippine Orthopaedic Institute. Keen to help Rudy, Dr Gomez agrees to treat him free of charge. First he checks Rudy’s health, and discovers he has high blood pressure and curvature of the spine, caused by carrying the extra weight. Dr Gomez explains Rudy has a parasitic twin, a condition so rare there are only 90 cases in the world. The twin is formed when an embryo fails to fully separate within the first 12 days of pregnancy.

During development the twin can become a parasite, living off the blood supply of the other embryo. The vast majority of parasitic twins have no brain tissue.

Later that week, Rudy has his first X-ray. Dr Marc Anthony also performs an ultrasound to see if Rudy shares any vital organs with his twin. The doctors are concerned to discover that Rudy has a heart murmur, which has been caused by the extra demand placed on the organ. Dr Gomez determines that the twin is only joined to one side of Rudy’s pelvis. “If you want it removed, it’s feasible,” he tells him. The ‘Octopus Man’ now faces a difficult choice – the extra strain of carrying his twin is putting his heart under pressure, but his weakened health means he might not survive surgery.

As Rudy wrestles with his decision, it becomes clear his concerns are not entirely related to his health. Although he could have an operation to change his life for the better, Rudy’s emotional attachment to his twin is very strong. “It’s like someone chopping off his brother or sister,” says Dr Anthony. Rudy feels he has a lot to thank his ‘brother’ for – including meeting his wife. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have worked at the carnival and we would never have met,” he says. “Once my twin is removed, there’s no going back.” Will Rudy have the strength to remove the twin that is killing him?

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