Their father says his two young sons, ages 9 and 13, are normal active kids by day, but as soon as the sun goes down they enter a vegetative state – completely paralyzed until the following day’s sunrise, which brings them back to life. Before you say they sound like most kids you know, be aware that they’ve been examined by a number of doctors who have no idea what has turned these boys into the so-called “Solar Kids” of Pakistan.
Shoaib, the teenager, and his brother Rashid live in the Balochistan village of Mian Kundi, a mountainous area near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Their father, Mohammad Hashim, says the boys were born with this mysterious condition and the neighbors gave them the seemingly appropriate nickname of the Solar Kids because they seem to get energy from the sun and lose it at sundown. Another son, a one-year-old, also has the malady, but three other children, two girls and a boy, do not.
The family is poor so they’ve never been able to afford a proper and thorough examination of the boys, Moreover, the parents are first cousins so villagers naturally blame them for their sons’ ‘curse’ – even though the other children seem to have escaped. Fortunately, the story was picked up recently by the media and Dunya News, reputedly the popular Urdu language news and current affairs television channel in Pakistan, paid for the boys to be sent on a 900 km trip to the Centre for Excellence in Microbiology of the University of the Punjab in Lahore and then to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) hospital in Islamabad. There they received medication for the symptoms that appears to give them some relief.
However, the cause of their sun-related disease remains a mystery. After determining that it’s the only known case in the world, Dr. Javed Akram of PIMS set up a research project that includes members of his staff, 27 Pakistani medical experts and 13 others that have examined the boys, run over 200 blood, DNA and brain tests and sent samples to the Mayo Clinic, John Hopkins Medical Institute and Guys Hospital in London. One finding is that the condition seems to be more time-of-day oriented, since the boys remain active on cloudy days or in dark rooms.
In addition, local officials in the village are taking water samples and testing the soil.
What’s causing this reverse-vampirism that makes Shoaib and Rashid comatose when the sun goes down? There have been cases of hereditary periodic paralysis, where a person experiences temporary muscle weakness that can cause paralysis for up to a day. This can be related to and regulated by potassium levels. A more serious periodic paralysis is Andersen-Tawil syndrome, which can also paralyze the heart’s rhythm. The experts don’t seem to believe either of these is the proper diagnosis for them.
Will doctors find a cure for the Solar Kids? More importantly, as these strange and rare diseases appear more frequently, will anyone question if they are related to what we are doing to our planet and force the real changes that can stop them … before we all become Solar Kids?