Sunday, July 11, 2010


Brooke Greenberg: The Girl Who Doesn't Age

So I've always been fascinated by people with abnormal medical conditions and mysterious disorders, partially due to my own sick curiosity and partially because they challenge the conventions of what it means to be "human" by representing a very wide range of possibilities of the human form...even though some of these conditions usually make the person's life much more difficult. One of the most intriguing cases I have heard about lately is a girl with a condition known only as "Syndrome X," since she is the only known person in the world with her specific abnormality. Although Brooke Greenberg looks and acts like a one-year-old child, this girl is actually a teenager, seventeen to be exact. Some believe she is "frozen in time."

Brooke has a mutation in Chromosome 1, but specialists and geneticists cannot explain how this affects her growth and development. She is unresponsive to growth hormones and any other type of treatment. Her sixteen-pound body is not developing as a coordinated unit, but as independent parts, out of sync. Her bones are like those of a ten-year-old, but she still has baby teeth.

Children's brains obviously grow and change as they age, yet Brooke's is not much more mature than that of a newborn, even though she was a newborn seventeen years ago; doctors estimate her mental age to be around nine months to a year old. What that says about her memories of the last sixteen years nobody can know for sure because while she can make gestures and recognize sounds, Brooke cannot speak. The medical field believes that she presents "a unique opportunity to understand the process of aging," even though her telomeres, which limit the number of cell divisions and indicate the body's true age (much like tree rings), seem to be shortening at a normal rate.

Another bizarre aspect of her condition occurred when she was five, after she'd already undergone other severe medical issues. Doctors found a mass in her brain and diagnosed it as a tumor; this caused her to sleep for fourteen days straight. When she woke up, the tumor had mysteriously vanished.

Brooke has three perfectly normal sisters, two very loving parents, and one full-time nurse in her hometown of Baltimore. It is unknown whether or not she will ever age in the future, or how doctors might make use of her very special case. She certainly represents the idealized "fountain of youth," which seems to be all the rage in the world of vampires. But while it might seem great to never age beyond eighteen, few would prefer to live their entire lives as an infant.


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