Ageing is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn’t stop people from going to extreme lengths to stop Mother Nature in her tracks. Whether it’s by investing in the best antiaging products money can buy, making lifestyle changes, or, in some cases, cosmetic surgery.
But for people with a rare genetic condition called progeria, there is absolutely no way of slowing down the aging process. Progeria is so rare that only one in four million people are born with the condition. There are around 140 known cases and an estimated 150 that are undiagnosed. It is the result of a genetic mutation which causes sufferers to age at eight times the normal rate. The longest known progeria survivor was Leon Botha, who lived until he was 26 years old but had the body of a 208-year-old. However, the majority of people born with the condition will live into their mid-teens and early twenties. Now the sad news has emerged that progeria sufferer Lucy Parke from Co Down, Ireland, has died at the age of just eight years old. Tragically, those who are born with the condition are typically diagnosed when they are over a year old. To their unsuspecting parents, they appear to be otherwise healthy babies. It is only when they stop growing that they typically realize something is wrong. Progeria dramatically cuts short sufferers’ lives because it accelerates the aging process. As a result, children are forced to deal with ailments that typically only affect people at the end of their lives including wrinkled skin, loss of eyesight, and cardiovascular problems. Following Lucy’s tragic death on New Year’s Day, her family has paid tribute to their brave little girl. “We have lost our precious Lucy. Her body was weak but her heart was strong,” they said, according to Belfast Live. “Her love for life and wonderful smile made us proud to be her parents.” Lucy is pictured below with her mother Stephanie. To draw attention to Lucy’s plight, her mother agreed to be interviewed for a book called When We Can’t, God Can. Speaking about Lucy’s death, its author, Catherine Campbell, said, “Many people have been encouraged and blessed by Lucy’s life.” “She was beautiful in every way, but had the premature aging condition progeria, and fought bravely against the effects it had on her tiny body these past 8 years.” “Lucy is now free from pain and limitation, but please pray for her wonderful family who are devastated by her passing. I am so blessed to have met this amazing little girl, and feel Stephanie and David’s pain very keenly today,” Catherine said. The average life expectancy for a progeria sufferer is 13 years old, and, one sufferer, who lived to be 17, went on a lifelong mission to raise awareness of the disease. Hayley Okines became known around the world for speaking openly about her life. She and her family allowed a number of documentaries to be made about them in the hope that increased awareness would lead to better treatment for those with progeria. This led to Hayley undergoing a pioneering drug treatment in the United States, which could have extended her life before she died in 2017. She is featured below talking about her condition which led to her being known as the “100-year-old teenager”:
When Hayley was 14 years old, but living in the body of a 112-year-old, she released a memoir about her life called Old Before My Time. “My life with progeria is full of happiness and good memories,” she wrote. “Deep [down] inside, I am no different from anyone. We are all human.”
“[When she was born] she had fine blonde hair, blue eyes and her father and I were besotted with her,” Hayley’s mother Kerry said. “At 10 months she walked for the first time – we were so proud. The only concern was she was so petite and didn’t appear to be growing.”
Prior to her death in 2015, Hayley not only helped raise awareness of progeria but won the hearts of thousands of people around the world. She also got the chance to fulfill many of her dreams including swimming with dolphins and meeting her hero Justin Beiber. We wish Lucy and Hayley’s families our sincere condolences as they recover from their losses.