The Eye-Opening Reason One Man's Colon Is On Display At A Museum

Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Mütter Museum is known for displaying an array of medical oddities and artifacts. According to The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the museum was established in 1863 by Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter. Condé Nast Traveler explains that Mütter donated his medical collection to the college with the aim of educating the public on medical history. He contributed 1,700 pieces and $30,000. Now, the Beaux-Arts building from 1909 (via Hidden City) houses over 25,000 items and an extensive medical library.

Some of the items one can expect to see include medical instruments, bones, anatomical models, and much more. In fact, Condé Nast Traveler writes that this museum is not for the faint of heart. It features two floors with cabinets full of objects that for some can be thought of as revolting or grotesque. Per All That's Interesting, the museum proudly displays preserved organs and disfigured fetuses in jars. Medical tools and kits from throughout history can also be seen.

Moreover, the museum owns a jar full of dry skin that was picked off by an individual with a compulsive disorder and the exhumed body of a woman known as The Soap Lady. However, one of the most distinct items that can be found in the museum is the large intestine of a 29-year-old man that is referred to as the Giant Megacolon.

What is Hirschsprung's disease?

According to MDLinx, the Giant Megacolon belonged to a man that was identified only as J.W. The Mütter Museum writes that at birth, J.W. was an average healthy baby. However, by the time he was 18 months old, it was clear that something was amiss with his digestive system. J.W. suffered from constipation and irregular bowel movements. He also had an unusually bloated belly. All of these symptoms readily increased as he grew older. J.W was only going number two once a month when he reached the age of 16.

Although his condition was considered to be a medical anomaly in the 1800s, it is now thought that J.W. had Hirschsprung's disease (via The Mütter Museum). Per the Mayo Clinic, Hirschsprung's disease occurs when a child is born without certain nerve cells in the colon. This prevents the gut muscles from moving waste through the large intestine, resulting in severe constipation.

It's unknown what causes this disease but it is believed to be genetic. MedlinePlus writes that other symptoms include malnourishment and developmental delays. The disease is rare and can be fatal if left untreated (per MDLinx). FamilyDoctor reports that surgery is the only option for those with Hirschsprung's disease to live a healthy and regular life.

Balloon Man died from his condition

As MDLinx explains, J.W. did not receive any treatment for his condition. Per the Mütter Museum, doctors knew he needed surgery but the procedure was deemed to be too perilous. Instead, he joined a Philadelphia freak show at the age of 20 under the name "Balloon Man." This was a reference to his large and uncomfortable-looking abdomen. Nevertheless, Hirschsprung's disease ultimately killed J.W. In 1892, the 29-year-old was found dead on the toilet while he was making an effort to have a bowel movement. An autopsy was subsequently done and disclosed some shocking details.

MDLinx reports that the autopsy uncovered that J.W. 's colon was eight feet long and had a 28-inch circumference. Moreover, it was filled with 40 pounds of excrement, resulting in J.W. 's swollen midsection. Now, his giant Megacolon resides at the Mütter Museum. Although it's unknown exactly how they came to own J.W's colon, the organ was dried and stuffed with straw in order to be displayed. The colon is so popular that the museum's gift shop even sells a stuffed plush of it.

J.W.'s battle with Hirschsprung's disease was undoubtedly a severe case. However, in 2017 it was revealed that a Chinese man with Hirschsprung's had undergone surgery to remove his 29-pound colon that was full of feces (via Inverse). The doctor that performed the man's surgery noted that his abdomen "looked like it could explode at any time."