Life in the Happy Valley

My friend Dr. Bob grew up in a coal town called Packard in eastern Kentucky, a place that was abandoned years ago. All that is left these days is kudzu growing over old foundations. He's a neurosurgeon in Louisville now, and an amateur Kentucky historian, and my favorite tale of his is about the blue Fugetts and the blind Fugetts. The Fugetts live in Letcher county, and like so many families isolated in a rural area they have in-bred a bit and linked up two sets of bad genes. One branch starts going blind in their 30's and 40's—well after they've had their quota of kids—and the other has a blood condition (methemoglobinemia) that prevents them from getting sufficient oxygen, rendering the poor Fugett distinctly blue. When it's cold or the Fugett is stressed he is really blue. It's got to be so bad that nobody hardly will marry them, and so some of the family have moved over one county to Perry, and changed their name I think to Thompson. Not that this has helped a lot; now there are blue Fugetts and blind Thompsons.

Growing up in Kentucky as I did, I heard a lot of stories like that. Wolfe County, in the beautiful Red River Gorge area in the center of the state, had or maybe still has the highest incidence of schizophrenia (which is a genetically linked disease) per capita in the world, because the same gorge that now attracts the backpackers further isolated families in an area where isolation...

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