When Rachelle was born, doctors didn't think much of her having two different colored eyes and more than one skin pigmentation. But things got complicated when a medical check-up led to some surprising revelations...
A Unique Birthmark
Meet Rachelle, the one-of-a-kind woman born in 1984. In many regards, her birth was an ordinary and healthy experience. But there was one characteristic that set Rachelle apart early on: a distinct birthmark.
"I have a straight line down the center of my torso," she explained. "On my left side only, my skin pigmentation is a different color than on my right side. And they kind of chalked it up to, 'It must be a birthmark.'" And this wasn't the only unique feature the baby girl had.
They Said It Was Heterochromia
Not only did Rachelle have two different skin pigmentation colors on each half of her body, but she also had different colored eyes! From a young age, the unique woman shocked people with her eyes. Rachelle has one stunning blue eye and an equally gorgeous green eye. Doctors thought they had an explanation for this, too.
Rachelle was diagnosed with heterochromia. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, complete heterochromia occurs when one iris is different from the other. "My dad's eyes are blue. My mom's eyes are green," Rachelle shared. But still, the cause for her unique features was unknown.
Living With Different Mental Conditions
Sometime around Rachelle's schooling years, teachers and family realized there were other, less visible characteristics that set her apart from some peers. After meeting with different professionals, Rachelle found out she had ADHD, OCD, and bipolar disorder.
"It just happens to be that I have a lot of chemical imbalances in my brain," Rachelle said of her different conditions. She added that bipolar disorder "absolutely makes me feel like a different person when I don't take my medication." Rachelle soon encountered more health challenges.
She Got Sick
As she learned how to live and cope with her various conditions, Rachelle began getting ill repeatedly. But the cause of her poor health was a mystery to professionals. "I started getting sick in my early teens," Rachelle recalled. "Every doctor I would go to, no one could figure it out."
The young girl and her family hoped the problems would pass, but that didn't seem likely anytime soon. No matter how many doctors she saw and how much advice they gave, Rachelle kept getting sick. "Since 14, I have been chronically sick, and I almost lost my life several times," she shared.
One of the symptoms Rachelle had was chronic bowel obstructions. Seemingly endless examinations and consultations later, she finally got a diagnosis that seemed to explain the mysterious illness: familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). But putting a name to the problem likely didn't bring much relief.
According to MedlinePlus, familial adenomatous polyposis is caused by mutations in the APC gene, which affect the ability of cells "to maintain normal growth and function." People with FAP often develop noncancerous growths in the colon during their adolescent years. The prognosis was not good.
A Grave Prediction
Rachelle felt close to devastated when doctors explained the common trajectory of familial adenomatous polyposis. The noncancerous colon masses that Rachelle developed during her teenage years would likely turn cancerous eventually. The young girl was understandably frightened.
According to MedlinePlus, FAP can cause hundreds to thousands of mass growths, or polyps, in the colon. These continually increase with age and become cancerous if a person's colon is not removed. After all of this time with the undiagnosed illness, what did Rachelle's future hold?
Going To a Geneticist
But things were about to get more confusing. As Rachelle processed all of the new - and scary - information revolving around familial adenomatous polyposis, she received some baffling news. Rachelle understood that a mutation in the APC gene caused FAP.
This critical gene contains a protein that acts as a tumor suppressor and ensures that the number of chromosomes in a cell after cell division is correct, as explained by MedlinePlus. Rachelle was advised to visit a geneticist to learn the root cause of the problem and make sure there weren't other dangerous mutations.
One Person, Two DNAs
After years of feeling like a medical mystery, Rachelle finally had answers. But it seemed that each one led to another question. So when doctors confirmed that a gene mutation caused her health issues, Rachelle went to a gene specialist for a checkup.
But things got confusing when the geneticist found two different sets of DNAs in Rachelle. "I have two sets of DNA profiles throughout my body. Like, in random places," she said. That explained her different colored eyes, but what about the unique birthmark? Before Rachelle could get answers, more bad news arrived.
She Had Colon Cancer
After years of struggling with her physical health, the future didn't prove much easier. Unfortunately, the doctors' grave prognosis for Rachelle's familial adenomatous polyposis condition proved true. She was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, better known as colon cancer.
"At 14, I was diagnosed with a genetic disorder that caused Colon Cancer," Rachelle reflected on when it all began. The many mass growths or polyps in her colon had become cancerous, just as the doctors feared. Rachelle knew she was now fighting for her life.
Could She Still Have Children?
Rachelle focused on surviving her latest health problem: colon cancer. Due to the disease plus all of the growths caused by FAP even before becoming cancerous, the young woman had to undergo over 30 minor surgeries and nearly 10 major surgeries. Rachelle dreamt of a cancer-free future.
But there was one thing she likely dreamt of the most: becoming a mom. "I really wanted to be a mom, and I wasn't ready to give that up," Rachelle shared. But part of the treatment for cancer could affect that. And so she made some health sacrifices to up her chances of motherhood.
A Dream Come True
To assure she'd be able to have kids, Rachelle skipped out on some treatments that might've made life with colon cancer and a chronic illness easier. For example, the aspiring mama chose not to have an ileostomy, a surgery that would help waste pass through the body without going through the colon.
And the sacrifices paid off. Rachelle survived colon cancer and went on to become a mom to a beautiful baby girl named Phoenix. It was a dream come true, and she felt grateful to experience motherhood. But then more health problems came knocking at the door.
Avoiding The Unavoidalble
Rachelle had survived colon cancer, but that didn't mean all of her other health challenges disappeared. The young mom still lived with familial adenomatous polyposis and had to constantly check on lumps and growth in her colon to make sure the cancer didn't return.
It became more and more difficult to put off getting an ileostomy. The procedure is common for people with colon cancer and helps protect the colon. But Rachelle was set on having more kids, so she had intense surgery to prolong the ileostomy. It was worth it.
A Difficult Birth
A few years after welcoming Phoenix into the world, Rachelle had another bun in the oven. This time, it was a boy. But her second pregnancy turned out to be more complicated than the first. For months, the expecting mother laid in a hospital bed praying for her baby's life.
"During my second pregnancy, the last three months, I had a bowel obstruction," Rachelle explained. "So I was in the hospital and my son and I were both in a lot of life-threatening situations." When her baby boy was finally born and healthy, something else caught their attention: his distinct birthmark.
She Finally Got a Diagnosis
The newborn, named Chance, had a unique mark. This mark was reminiscent of his mother's double skin pigmentation: one half of the baby's face was a different color than the other. This likely motivated Rachelle to continue searching for answers to her gene mutations and special features.
At the age of 32, nearly two decades since first getting sick, Rachelle finally got an explanation as to why her body contained two different sets of DNA. "I did come across a doctor, and he confirmed that I am a Chimera," she explained. But what did that mean?
She Had a Twin
After receiving the FAP diagnosis, Rachelle had visited a geneticist and learned she had two different DNAs throughout her body. But how that happened remained a mystery for years - until now. "Chimerism is a very rare condition," Rachelle explained.
"Basically, it means I am my own twin," she continued. "Chimerism is where two fraternal twin eggs fuse together in the womb. I absorbed my twin sister. So I carry her DNA and cells within my body." Rachelle was shocked when the doctor said she once had a twin.
"She Sacrificed Herself To Save Me"
Just because Rachelle didn't get to meet her fraternal twin didn't mean that learning she had one was free of emotions. "I think we conjoined together because my mom couldn't have twins, and either my mom would've perished or both of us would've perished," Rachelle said.
"So I think that maybe even, you know, she sacrificed herself to save me. I know I'd sacrifice myself to save her or my mom," she continued. "I think that her soul went to heaven, and I think that parts of her body remained in mine, and now they're mine, and now they're part of me." Rachelle wondered if her parents had known.
Did Her Parents Know?
So Rachelle hadn't been alone growing inside her mother's belly. The doctor explained that she'd originally had a fraternal twin who died in the womb, and Rachelle then absorbed the deceased embryo's cells. That's why her body had two different sets of DNA.
Why did it take 32 years for doctors to understand that she was a human chimera? For starters, her parents had no idea that Rachelle was supposed to have a twin. And with only about 100 cases of chimerism recorded worldwide, it wasn't exactly a medical professional's go-to explanation.
Which DNA Is Hers?
The 32-year-old mom finally understood why her eyes were two different colors and her skin multiple pigmentations: those were the differences between Rachelle's DNA and the deceased twin's DNA. So which of the genes were absorbed from the dead embryo?
According to Rachelle, the twin's genetic makeup is shown on the left side of her face, where she boasts a blue eye with weak vision. "The reason that I know the DNA of the eyes is because the optometrist basically said that this eye (green eye) works twice as hard to overcompensate for this eye (blue eye)," Rachelle explained.
Not a 50/50 Split
While half of her body was a different skin tone than the other half, and she had different colored eyes, Rachelle said that the two sets of DNA were actually not split evenly throughout. The mother-of-two absorbed the twin's DNA, but her own still dominated.
"The other thing is, it's not a 50/50 split between my twin and I," Rachelle claimed. "It's more like 80/20 or 75/25... It's not fifty-fifty. So if my brain is hers... it's still mine cause I only have one." Learning she was a human chimera didn't lead to an identity crisis, but it did raise many other questions...
Were Her Various Conditions All Related?
The new diagnosis brought clarity to some of Rachelle's distinct physical characteristics. But was it also the cause behind her FAP and, ultimately, colon cancer? "I cannot say for certain whether or not my conditions are related. There are not enough chimeras in the world in order to do enough testing," Rachelle said.
"[But] I would say yes because the reason that I have colon cancer is because of a genetic mutation, and I don't understand how else I would have a genetic mutation," she added. "I mean, people can have them, but I feel like the genetic mutation, and the several autoimmune disorders I have is probably linked, but I can't say for certain."
Was She Her Children's Mother or Aunt?
Wondering whether chimerism caused Rachelle's lifelong health battles wasn't the only question on her mind. The mother-of-two learned that there was a chance that both Phoenix and Chance had the twin's DNA rather than their mom's DNA. This meant that genetically, Rachelle would be their aunt.
It wouldn't be the first case of someone with chimerism passing on the deceased twin's DNA instead of their own to one's biological kids. In the early 2000s, Lydia Fairchild stood accused of fraud and a surrogacy scam when DNA tests said her children weren't actually hers. What would happen with Rachelle's family?
Fortunately, Lydia Fairchild's case was ultimately resolved when she was determined to be a human chimera. The mom-of-three passed on her twin's DNA but was still determined to be the children's rightful mother. But Rachelle wondered - which set of chromosomes did her own kids have?
After having Chance, Rachelle decided it was the right time to have a hysterectomy and remove her uterus. This was the perfect chance to find out the truth: did Chance and Phoenix share their mom's DNA or the twin she absorbed in utero? Would it matter either way?
Which DNA Did Her Children Inherit?
"I had to have a total hysterectomy because of the genetic mutations that I have," Rachelle explained. "And when they examined both my uterus and my ovaries... they determined that both of my ovaries are 100% mine." But which DNA did the doctors find in her uterus? Rachelle's or the absorbed fraternal twin?
"In the uterus, there were some cells of my fraternal twin, but the majority of the uterus was my own," she revealed. "So, both my children have been tested. My son's going back for more testing... Both the children are mine; they came from my eggs, my DNA." Then things got complicated with Chance...
Going for Tests
Studying Rachelle's ovaries and uterus brought a wave of relief. The mom-of-two might be a human chimera, but she wouldn't need to worry about her children being confused for a niece or nephew. But still, Phoenix and Chance went for further genetic testing.
According to Healthline, one form of chimerism called "microchimerism" involves a fetus absorbing cells from its own mother. Could the kids have that? Or perhaps other genetic mutations like their mother? Chance and Phoenix went to see a geneticist just in case.
Her Son Had Chimera, Too
Since Rachelle had health problems due to genetic mutations from a young age, she decided to get ahead of the curve when it came to her children's well-being. So Phoenix and Chance got genetic testing. And the results revealed that one of them also had chimerism.
"My son also has something very similar. I think it's called microchimerism if I'm not mistaken," Rachelle shared. "He was born just like this, and they believe it was also related to chimerism." Like his mom, Chance had two skin pigmentations that at birth were assumed to be a birthmark...
He Had To Go For Surgery
Rachelle wanted to make sure that Chance's birthmark, specifically called a port-wine stain, wasn't a symptom of a deeper genetic condition. And while the genetic testing revealed Chance had microchimerism, that wasn't necessarily the cause of the birthmark.
While the stain was largely harmless, it ended up affecting the young boy's lip size and comfort. "Chance is having a lip reduction surgery. His Port White Stain enlarged his lip," explained the mom-of-two. Fortunately, the surgery went well. Rachelle hoped they wouldn't find themselves in the doctor's office much more.
She Joined TikTok
During these health obstacles with her son, Rachelle shared their experiences on TikTok. The dedicated mother had recently become a single mom following a difficult divorce, and social media was a way to express herself. Little did she know, this app would be life-changing.
Rachelle made TikTok videos discussing the difficulties of post-divorce life and starting over. But she also spoke a lot about her health difficulties: from genetic mutations to colon cancer and an ileostomy procedure. And then one specific clip really blew up...
Rachelle liked to get real and honest on TikTok and one day decided to share what is arguably the most unique feature about herself: chimerism. Rachelle created a short and catchy video clip that summed up what it meant to be a human chimera. The response was astounding.
The TikTok went viral. As of the writing of this article, the popular video has over 9.8 million views, 1.5 million likes, and 21.7 thousand comments. It felt like Rachelle suddenly became an internet sensation overnight. And the mother-of-two saw a business opportunity.
After the TikTok about being a human chimera went viral, Rachelle gained tons of new followers. She continued uploading videos, some partaking in social media trends, and others getting vulnerable with followers about real-life challenges. And people seemed to love it.
A few months after going viral, Rachelle's TikTok reached a whopping 105,000 followers. By the time of this article, this aspiring social media influencer has over 170,000 followers. "I'm the kind of person that gets like gene mutations and like chimerism," Rachelle said. "I never thought this was gonna happen to me."
Making the viral video about being a human chimera seemed to change Rachelle's life. The single mom built a community filled with supportive followers interested in her family's day-to-day and health challenges. And she hoped to monetize the popularity.
"This is like a dream come true," Rachelle said. "And it really is something that I am so grateful for... Because with this platform, I might be able to get off disability, I might be able to be a brand influencer." Interested in seeing her adventures? You can find Rachelle's TikTok @radrachelle.