Baby Maria Audenete Ferreira do Nascimento was born in Ceara, Brazil. This area is popular with tourists for its beautiful beaches, but many of Ceara’s families are poor, and Maria started life in a simple mud hut. However, of the almost nine million people who live in the coastal state, Maria is certainly unique.
Yes, when Maria was just nine months old, an autoimmune disease prevented her body and mind from developing normally. This disease, known as hypothyroidism or cretinism, meant that Maria had a severe deficiency in thyroid hormones.
The thyroid gland is found in the neck, and it influences our metabolism as well as our protein synthesizing capabilities. It can also affect physical, mental and cognitive ability. Strangely, though, the most common cause of hypothyroidism is iodine deficiency.
And, heartbreakingly, Maria’s condition could have been prevented – or managed – if doctors had treated her with the right medication earlier. After all, hypothyroidism is among the most common causes of preventable cerebral disability, with iodine deficiency being the first.
Fortunately for baby Maria, though, she is surrounded by a family who love her unconditionally. In fact, Maria’s stepmother, Francisca “Doura” Dos Santos, cares for her as if she were her own. Yes, Doura, who calls her stepdaughter “a gift from God,” feeds, baths and loves little Maria with affection.
And, since Maria’s birth mother died in 2003, Doura has tried to look after Maria as best she can. However, without funds, the family has been unable to seek the medical treatment Maria so desperately needs in order for her quality of life to improve. However, some people want to help.
“When I think I’m alone, someone comes,” said Doura in an interview. “Thank God, that makes me feel very honored. I want a thousand people to visit her. The more the better because we get treated nicely. People are seeing our lives, our situation and wanting to see Maria Audenete. To take a better look at her because many people don’t believe.”
Doura continued, “An old lady came here on Sunday and said, ‘I’ll just believe it if I see it by myself.’ She came here, touched Maria, kissed her and cried. She saw Maria on TV and wanted to come here to meet her, to touch her with her own hands to see if the story was true.”
And the reason why people come to visit Maria from far around? It’s because, amazingly, Maria is now 35 years old. Born on May 7, 1981, she’s still just 27 inches tall and 19 pounds – the height and weight of a toddler – and unable to do anything for herself.
A TV presenter from Record News asked Doura what it’s like to be the mother of a child that’s eternally a baby. Doura replied, “Being mother of a child like her… I think is a gift that God gave us.”
And despite Maria looking like a baby, the Record News presenter commented, “She knows how to communicate. She knows how to ask; she knows how to say what’s happening to her.” Indeed, Maria communicates using nothing but baby-like sign language.
Then, however, the presenter did something that changed the family’s lives forever. He offered to take Maria to see a specialist doctor – and it was a turning point for the whole family.
“She has a deficiency of the thyroid hormone,” the doctor said in a follow-up to the show. “Her thyroid didn’t develop properly and the thyroid is fundamental for normal development.”
“Cretinism characteristics include low stature, with deficiency on the thyroid hormone and mental retardation. The thyroid hormone is fundamental for intelligence and developing stature. She got up to 28 years old without proper treatment,” he explained.
The doctor continued, “If we had treated and diagnosed her earlier, surely today she’d be a normal girl with normal size and intelligence. The treatment, even late, will improve her stature a bit and her motor functions.” So the experts at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ceara agreed to treat Maria for free.
Her specialist told the family, “She’ll be able to walk, to sit by herself. It will improve her intestinal functions and will prevent excess cholesterol in her blood.” But he also warned that the treatment wouldn’t improve her mental condition.
“I’m full of happiness to know that this kid is gonna have a new life. This little girl suffers so much. Now I can say that I’m a very happy woman, thank God,” said Doura.
So, when Maria reached the age of 29, the family moved into a proper house, paid for by Brazilian TV show Programa do Ratinho. It proved the perfect environment for Maria to start responding to and benefitting from the treatment. It also provided a much better quality of life for her patient and loving parents.
“I never thought she would be able to walk, but now I believe she will,” said Maria’s father, Raimundo Nonato Ferreira, in an interview with Programa do Ratinho. “She walks leaning on the crutch but soon she’ll be walking without it,” he added.
Doura added, “She wasn’t able to balance by herself unless we held her. It’s a new life – we need to change everything. She even has hair now after starting this special nutrition. Soon I’ll be taking her to the hair stylist to have her hair done. Braids and everything – her hair is growing out of nowhere!”
Still, Dr. Richard Walker, a specialist in aging, said that, while hormone treatments might provide health benefits, it’s unlikely Maria will ever get bigger. However, he added that studying people such as Maria Audenete could one day be useful in “figuring out that mythical fountain of youth.”