Progeria is an extraordinarily rare fatal disease which makes children age ten times faster than normal.
Last Friday night, ABC News “20/20″ presented “Barbara Walters Special: Seven Going on Seventy,” which featured three of the 68 children in the world who currently have the condition.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and the film based on it were said to be inspired by progeria, but, the reality is not as romantic.
Kids with progeria are seemingly healthy at birth, but begin to age dramatically by the time they turn two. They lose their hair. Their skin wrinkles and they often develop diseases associated with old age — osteoporisis, cataracts and cardiovascular problems. On average, the life expectancy of kids with progeria is 13.
Progeria is one of the most rare diseases, affecting only one in every 4-to-8 million births. Although it is caused by a gene mutation, it is not hereditary.
There is no cure for the disease, but there are clinical drug trials aimed at developing one. Still, despite their prognosis, the girls featured in Walters’ special are optimistic. They take comfort in the support of their families and try to ignore the stares of strangers.
Six-year-old Lindsay Ratcliffe of Flat Rock, Michigan “loves ponies, Legos and running the bases at the T-Ball game,” but unlike other first graders, she weighs 20 pounds and has the body of a senior citizen, according to ABC News.
Lindsay’s parents do the best they can to give her a normal life, but it’s hard to ignore the reality of the situation. “Whether it’s a birthday or going to the park, whatever you do, you look at it as unfortunately it could be the last time,” her father said.
Watching these sweet little girls and knowing that they likely won’t live until their teens is heartbreaking. Seeing the challenges the girls and their families face daily also puts most of our lives in perspective. We fret over what sort of parenting philosophy we adhere to, but, ultimately, all that matters is that our children are healthy.
Let’s hope they find a cure or at least a treatment for progeria so that Lindsay and the other kids who suffer from the disease will live beyond their teens.