My ‘Ninja Turtle Baby’ Boy Was Born with a Shell — He’s My Superhero


A Clearwater, Florida, infant born with a growth on his back has been lovingly nicknamed “little Ninja Turtle” by his parents, as it resembled a “turtle shell.”

Nineteen-month-old James McCallum was given this moniker due to a rare skin condition that baffled doctors.

According to James’ mother, Kaitlyn McCallum, 35, ultrasounds revealed nothing unusual before his birth on August 19, 2021.

However, Kaitlyn and her husband Tim, 41, grew concerned when they noticed James’ back developing scabs and lumps.

“It looked kind of like a birthmark but scabbed over in parts — it was a little concerning, as it looked like something was wrong,” Kaitlyn told South West News Service.

As the mark grew — resembling a large mole — his parents took him for tests, enduring months of waiting for results.

“The doctors didn’t really know what it was at that point,” Kaitlyn recalled.

“It covered 75% of his back at the start, and it had started to get fattier and lumpier,” she continued. “It seemed like it was growing.”

James was born with a rare skin condition that left him unable to sleep on his back. Courtesy Kaitlyn McCallum / SWNS

The baby’s skin condition baffled doctors. Courtesy Kaitlyn McCallum / SWNS

James had multiple surgeries to remove the mass. Courtesy Kaitlyn McCallum / SWNS

James’ lump grew rapidly, becoming so cumbersome that he had to sleep on his side.

“[It] had become like a turtle shell on his back,” she explained. “He couldn’t put his head down flat because it was so bulky.”

James had his first surgery to remove the nevus in February 2022, undergoing an MRI on his brain and spine to check for internal growth.

The new parents say James’ quality of life is much better now that the mass has been removed. Courtesy Kaitlyn McCallum / SWNS

“One of the sub-conditions is internal growth on the brain or spine,” Kaitlyn explained. “So, at 2½ months old, he had to go under anesthesia to have it done.”

Fortunately, there was no internal growth, and his parents began the process to have it removed. Doctors tested the removed skin for diseases after his first surgery, and the results came back negative.

Worried the mass could grow back, Tim and Kaitlyn joined a Facebook group to connect with others living with the condition, which they say has enlightened them to other symptoms and side effects — such as itchiness and lack of sweat glands.

After connecting with a specialist in Chicago, James’ parents decided to start tissue expansion in September 2022, a process involving the surgical growth of “good” skin.

“You can do the expansion process from home,” Kaitlyn said. “The expanders are placed under the skin by the doctor, and then we injected them with saline once a week, slowly expanding the good skin to replace the nevus.

“He’s so much happier and more comfortable, and we’ll just be happy to get all of it gone by the summer,” she added.

Kaitlyn delivered James in August 2021. When he arrived, there was a scabby growth on his back.

“(It was) terrifying, to say the least,” Kaitlyn said. “Right when he was born, it was pretty flat. There was a bump by his neck, there was a lump.”

“That’s kind of concerning when you have medical professionals telling you they’ve never seen this before,” Tim said, noting the doctors’ initial puzzlement.

As the McCallums searched for answers, struggling with the uncertainty, the growth increased in size, becoming lumpier and fattier. The spots grew darker, the texture became fleshier, and the exterior grew hairier.

The growth began to resemble a turtle shell, with Kaitlyn and Tim adopting the nickname “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” for their toddler.

“We try to give him any superhero nickname because that’s what he is to us,” Kaitlyn said.

Unfortunately, the shell-like growth hindered James’ life. He couldn’t sleep on his back, a safe sleep practice for babies, and his head and neck movement became increasingly restricted.

Finally, a pediatric dermatologist in Orlando diagnosed him with a giant congenital melanocytic nevus.

It’s a large patch of skin, often described as a mole or birthmark, that presents at birth or develops in a baby’s first year. It is usually not harmful, though it can develop into cancer or become dangerous if it reaches the brain or spine. Thankfully, in James’ case, it was cumbersome but harmless.

“Getting that diagnosis of ‘Okay, here is what it is, here’s who you can go to, here’s how we’re going to fix it,’ was the moment of, ‘Okay, we can do this,’” Kaitlyn said.

Doctors began the removal process when James was six months old, starting with the lump by his neck and then moving down his back to remove the bulk of the shell. They have now started a series of procedures to remove the bad skin and replace it with good skin, spearheaded by a specialist at the University of Chicago.

When it’s all over, doctors hope James will be left with nothing more than a scar. His parents know their turtle-shell hero will have a story to tell, and they’ll look back on the strength it took for all of them to endure this birth surprise.

“I’ve learned how strong you can be and how much a mother can do for a child,” Kaitlyn said. “Just keep staying strong. There’s an end to this, and we’re almost there.”

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