Bangladeshi couple Parul and Biswajit Patro were thrilled when their son was born in a hospital near Bhulbaria village. And, just like many parents, they were over the moon to see that their newborn had come into the world alive and healthy.
However, their offspring wasn’t just like any other baby – this youngster had some very striking features. He was blessed with wrinkles all over his face, a pair of sunken eyes, a shriveled little body and a hairy back. In fact, his unique appearance has led many people to claim that the child was born with the features of an 80-year-old man.
As you can imagine, the baby created quite a stir in the local village. Many relatives and nosy strangers came from far and wide to catch a glimpse of the child’s elderly features. His mother Parul, however, has been taking the attention in her stride. And despite having a newborn to care for, she has taken the time to greet her many visitors.
Despite all the attention, the couple say that they are overjoyed with their latest arrival. And the boy’s dad, Biswajit, told India Today that he believes the youngster takes after him. “Our first child, Aparna, has taken after her mother. But my boy looks like me, and I am happy,” he said.
When asked about the child’s unusual appearance, Mr. Patro proudly told the Daily Mail, “We can only thank God. There is no need to be unhappy about the appearance of my son.” And he continued, “We will accept him the way he is. We are so happy to have a baby boy in the house. We are already blessed to have a daughter. Now we are a family of four. What else can we ask for?”
Local medics were initially baffled by the boy’s condition. They had no idea what had caused the boy’s features to appear as they did. One doctor told the Daily Mail, “The baby does not look like a newborn at all. There are prominent signs of aging such [as] excessive wrinkles and rough skin texture.”
However, following further examination, doctors now believe that the youngster may be suffering from a condition known as Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome (HGPS), which is often shortened to Progeria. The illness is so rare that as few as one in every four million babies are diagnosed with it.
The condition is the result of a single abnormality in the child’s genetic makeup, and one symptom is that the child’s body grows older much more quickly than it normally would. As such, new-born infants come into the world already bearing the hallmarks of old age. And, sadly, most sufferers don’t survive past the age of 13.
The aging process is triggered when the mutation causes the gene to start creating a protein called progerin. This in turn causes cells in the body to disintegrate, just as they might do in an elderly person. And as the protein multiplies it collects in the cells and accelerates the aging process.
In most cases, signs of the illness will present themselves during the first 12 months of life. Patients often have a reduced lifespan, with many dying before they reach their teenage years. However, the prognosis for early life is positive and in the case of the Patros’ child, doctors believe he will enjoy a healthy childhood.
Complications may arise when the child is older, however, as doctors are unsure how to treat the illness. And yet, despite the potential difficulties faced by the couple, the boy’s father is overjoyed. “I am not unhappy, nor do I feel any sorrow that my son is different,” he told India Today.
Meanwhile, some of the boy’s other family members believe that he will live a normal life despite the diagnosis. “The baby looks old because his father also looks more than his age. I just hope that the baby will lead a long and healthy life,” Arabindu Mondal, the baby’s uncle, told India Today.
However, the latest case is not the only one of its kind in Bangladesh. In February 2016 a boy named Bayezid from a nearby village was also diagnosed with the same condition. And medics have since advised that the youngster undergo further treatment at a hospital in the country’s capital, Dhaka.
In the U.S., a 17-year-old named Sam Berns died before he could reach adulthood as a result of the condition. Berns passed away in November 2014 following a lifelong battle with the genetic disorder. But first, he bravely spoke out about his life with Progeria.
Berns’ family have worked tirelessly to promote awareness about the disease. His parents are both doctors and they have also lobbied for further research into the causes of the condition, in the hope that scientists might one day develop a cure that will save lives. And in 2003 they had some success when they found the gene which causes the illness.
Medics initially said that Sam would not survive past the age of 13. Thankfully, however, he went on to outlive this prognosis. He reached 17 and managed to use his time on earth to tell others about his life as a Progeria sufferer. “It’s with heavy hearts we announce Sam Berns has passed away,” the Progeria Research Foundation announced in 2014. “His courage moved all who knew him.”
During his time on Earth, Berns spoke freely about his illness. “Even though there are many obstacles in my life, I don’t want people to feel bad for me,” Berns said while speaking at a TED conference in 2014. “I don’t think about these obstacles all the time, and I’m able to overcome most of them anyway,” he added.
Tributes flooded in for Berns in the hours following his death. “You’re a different person after you meet Sam for the first time,” John Seng, a Progeria Research Foundation board member told the Boston Herald. “We go through every day worrying about traffic jams and why the Internet is so slow, yet, here is Sam Berns, carrying on with his life. He didn’t want people to feel sorry for him, he said he was happy and he meant it.”
But for Sam’s fellow Progeria sufferers in Bangladesh, it is not clear what the future holds. With drug treatments advancing each day, perhaps they will go on to live happy and long lives. And for now, at least, it seems that Mr. and Mrs. Patro are just happy that their son is in their arms.