Javier Galeano  /  AP
Yoandri Hernandez Garrido, 37, is proud of his extra digits and calls them a blessing, saying they set him apart and enable him to make a living by scrambling up palm trees to cut coconuts.
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updated 8/29/2011 2:17:33 PM ET 2011-08-29T18:17:33

They call him "Twenty-Four."

Yoandri Hernandez Garrido's nickname comes from the six perfectly formed fingers on each of his hands and the six impeccable toes on each foot.

Hernandez is proud of his extra digits and calls them a blessing, saying they set him apart and enable him to make a living by scrambling up palm trees to cut coconuts and posing for photographs in this eastern Cuban city popular with tourists. One traveler paid $10 for a picture with him, Hernandez said, a bonanza in a country with an average salary of just $20 a month.

"It's thanks to my 24 digits that I'm able to make a living, because I have no fixed job," Hernandez said.

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Known as polydactyly, Hernandez's condition is relatively common, but it's rare for the extra digits to be so perfect. Anyone who glanced quickly at his hands would be hard-pressed to notice anything different unless they paused and started counting.

Hernandez said that as a boy he was visited by a prominent Cuban orthopedist who is also one of Fidel Castro's doctors, and he declared that in all his years of travel he had never seen such a case of well-formed polydactyly.

"He was very impressed when he saw my fingers," said Hernandez, who is the only one in his family to be born with extra digits.

In a part of the world where people's physical traits are often the basis for nicknames — even unflattering ones like "fatty" or "shorty" — "veinticuatro" ("twenty-four" in English) is not an insult but rather a term of endearment, and Hernandez, now 37, said his uniqueness has made him a popular guy. He has a 10-year-old son with a woman who now lives in Havana, and his current girlfriend is expecting his second child.

"Since I was young, I understood that it was a privilege to have 24 digits. Nobody has ever discriminated against me for that," he said. "On the contrary, people admire me and I am very proud. I have a million friends, I live well."

Nevertheless, it occasionally caused confusion growing up.

"One day when I was in primary school, a teacher asked me how much was five plus five?" Hernandez recalled. "I was very young, kind of shy, and I didn't say anything. She told me to count how many fingers I had, so I answered, "12!"

"The teacher was a little upset, but it was the truth," he said.

Hernandez said he hopes he can be an example to children with polydactyly that there's nothing wrong with them.

"I think it's what God commanded," he said. "They shouldn't feel bad about anything, because I think it's one of the greatest blessings and they'll be happy in life."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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