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Secret underlies Hatfield-McCoy Historical Feud

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From The Idaho Statesman, April, 6, 2007:


By Marilynn Marchione


The most infamous feud in American folklore, the battle between the Hatfields and McCoys, may be partly explained by a rare, inherited disease that can lead to hair-trigger rage and violent outbursts.


Dozens of McCoy descendants apparently have the disease, which causes high blood pressure, racing hearts, severe headaches and too much adrenaline and other "fight or flight" stress hormones. No one blames the whole feud on the condition, called von Hippel-Lindau disease, but doctors say it could help explain some of the clan's notorious behavior.


"This condition can certainly make anybody short-tempered, and if they are prone because of their personality, it can add fuel to the fire," said Dr. Revi Mathew, a Vanderbilt University endocrinologist treating one of the family members.


The Hatfield's and McCoys have a storied and deadly history dating to Civil War times. Their generations of fighting over land, timber rights and even a pit are the subject of dozens of books, songs and countless jokes. Unfortunately for Appalachia, the feud is one its greatest sources of fame.


Several genetic experts have known about the disease plaguing some of the MCCoys for decades, but kept it secret. The Associated Press learned of it after several family members revealed their history to Vanderbilt doctors, who are trying to find more McCoy relatives to warm them of the risk.


One doctor who had researched the family for decades called them the "McC kindred" in a 1998 medical journal article tracing the disease through four generations.


"He said something about us never being able to get insurance" if the full family name was used, said Rita Reynolds, a Bristol, Tenn., woman with the disease. She says she is a McCoy descendant and has documents from the doctor showing his work on her family.


She is speaking up now so distant relatives might realize their risk and get help before the condition proves fatal, as it did to many of her ancestors.


Back then, "we didn't even know this existed," she said. "They just up and died."


Von Hippel-Lindau disease, which afflicts many family members, can cause tumors in the eyes, ears, pancreas, kidney, brain and spine. Roughly three-fourths of the affected McCoys have pheochromocytomas---tumors of the adrenal gland.


The small, bubbly-looking orange adrenal gland sits atop each kidney and makes adrenaline and substances called catecholamines. Too much can cause high blood pressure, pounding headaches, heart palpitations, facial flushing, nausea and vomiting. There is no cure for the disease, but removing the tumors before they turn cancerous can improve survival.


Affected family members have long been know to be combative, even with their kin. Reynolds recalled her grandaterh, "Smallwood" McCoy.


When he would come to visit, everyone would run and hide. They acted like they were scared to death of him. He had a really bad temper," she said.


Her adopted daughter, another McCoy descendant, 11-year-old Winnter Reynolds, just had an adrenal tumor removed at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital. Teachers thought the girl had ADHD---attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Now, Winnter says, "my parents are thinking it may be the tumor" that caused the behavior. "I've been feeling great since they took it out."


Dr. Nuhet Atuk at the Universtiy of Virginia in Charlottesville and geneticists at the University of Pennsylvania studied the family for more than 30 years, Rita Reynolds said.


"They went back on the genealogy and all of that stuff," she said. They called it madness disease. They said it had to be coming from the BHL. Our family would just go off, even on the doctors."


Rita Reynolds had two adrenal tumors removed a few years ago. Her mother and three brothers also had them. So do McCoy descendants in Oregon, Michigan and Indiana, she said.


When you have these tumors, you're easty to get upset," said Rita's mother, Goldie Hankins, 76, of Big Rock, Va., near the Kentucky-West Virginia border. "When people get on your nerves, you just can't take it. You get angry because your blood pressure was so high."


The "feud" has taken a civil tone and all but disappeared, members of both families say. THe last time it surfaced was in January 2003. McCoy descendants sued Hatfield descendants over visitation rights to a small cemetery on an Apalachian hillside in eastern Kentucky. It holds the remains of six McCoys, some allegedly killed by the Hatfields.

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Oh my goodness! I feel like I just got hit by a bolt of lightening!!!! This article mentioned a woman named Goldie Hankins. My maiden name was Hankins and my dad came from Tazwell, VA!! Just about every Hankins I know is from that area originally. Our family line goes back to England. I am going to have to dig out that family tree book and see if I find any Hatfield's or Mc Coy's! This is so interesting! Thanks so much Shelley for posting this!



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I also posted a topic on this same article that was written in our local newspaper in California on Friday. But they mentioned Cushings in it. It said,"Another relative, Bo McCoy, of Waverly, Ohi, said he had never heard talk of the disease although he has been diagnosed with a different adrenal gland problem - Cushings syndrome. That was all they said about cushings. So they classified it into the same category of this article which is what I understand, the pheos deals with hereditary diseases of adrenal tumors causing the catecholamines of epinephrine and adrenaline to cause the fight or flight reaction and make you crazy and that is the point of the story, Why the Hatfield and McCoys Disease could help explain America's most storied feud.


I contacted numerous people at the newspaper telling them about my cushings story and how I've lived here most of my life and survived cushings which is a different type of disease, not heriditary but is treatable but not getting diagnosed properly and that tomorrow is Cushings Awareness Day and I would love to have them do an article on cushings to help educate the public about this disease that they mentioned but did not explain in detail about it and I beleive it would be a good thing to do for the community here since I had it, got misdiagnosed by 7 doctor's in 2 yrs. and when I finally did get diagnosed, I was told by the surgeon that in 3 more months I would have been inoperable as the tumor was wrapping around my optic nerve and would have needed radiation forever. That 1 in 5 people have pituitary tumors and they are not sure why they act up and if treated, the survival rate is good.


But out of 4 emails, 2 faxes and telephone calls I made, no interest or response was received from them and I am sad to say, it might not happen. I asked everyone for help on how to convince them to do an article. But I can't get them to contact me.


Where do you live and when did the article come out in your paper? Mine was written by the same lady, Marilynn Marchione and it says Associated Press under her name.


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I finally decided that I needed to do what I could to find out my medical history---I am adopted and my birth mother was from Oregon---one of the states mentioned where there appear to be "descendants".


I also identified with some of what was written in this article---I have a tendency (at times) to have absolutely NO PATIENCE

with anyone or anything---and I'm a "fighter" not a "flighter"---there are days when I think I could whip terrorists single-handedly. I shared this with my mom---I've been told all my life that I was the sweetest kindest person---until something happened and I would just go into a tantrum---I don't know if it's because of how I was raised---or if I've just learned a stupid way of dealing with stuff---but I'm going to check stuff out.


By the way---I'm going to see the neurologist again---she told me that I had some weird formations in my brain---and that sometimes people with whatever it is I have---I'll find out and let you know---just drop dead---for no apparent reason. Again, this made me think that maybe there is something I need to figure out.


In addition, my mechanic, whom I've written about earlier this week (he has an adrenal tumor) and has had all sorts of cancer and other "weird" health problems---he mentioned that his sis-in-law has Cushings---and a few years ago, he told me about how he and his wife traveled to Wales---to do genealogy---they lived there for awhile with some friends whom they met on-line, I think---anyway---he did a lot of research when he was over there.


When I last saw our mechanic (who has been so kind to me and my family for more than 20 years), I started realizing that he seemed to have many of the physical symptoms that we talk about here on the boards.


I have tried to do all I could to figure out things---and so far, I'm getting somewheres---but not fast enough, dang-it---I don't know where my quest is going to take me, but I have decided that I need to track down all sorts of leads, no matter how small they seem.


Valerie---The writer of the story could live anywhere---but you can contact the Associated Press for more information about the writer.


The article appeared in Friday's Idaho Statesman.

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