Britain's oldest 20-year-old man has the body of a 160-year-old due to rare condition
Dean has progeria, which means his body ages eight times faster than normalHe says: 'I've never let the condition hold me back'
14:57 GMT, 24 April 2012
Speaking out: Dean Andrews, 20, has told of his life with progeria, a rare ageing disease that meant he was unlikely to survive his early teens
Europe’s oldest sufferer of a rare ageing disease has told how in just 20 years his body has become that of a 160-year-old.
Dean Andrews' body has aged eight times faster than normal due to a rare condition called Hutchinson-Gilford progeria.
He is one of just four progeria sufferers in the UK and out of only 74 cases worldwide, Dean is thought to be the second oldest survivor.
Now Dean has decided to tell the story of his life so far in the hope of providing inspiration to other sufferers.
said: 'I’ve never let my condition hold me back. I’ve always tried to
do what everyone else does and even if I failed, at least I tried.
family have kept me going and I’ve got very supportive friends. I’m
very lucky as they do everything they can to make me happy.'
Dean weighs just 3st 10lbs – but his small body holds a big personality.
his 20 years, Dean has learnt to drive, been engaged, got four tattoos
and once even started a mechanics course at college. However, he was
forced to quit when he was unable to get his tiny 4ft 1in frame over the
Nevertheless, his achievements are astounding considering that when he was diagnosed with progeria at the age of seven, his mother Dawn Thomas, 41, was told he would not live beyond his early teens.
Back then, the condition was so poorly documented that most doctors had never even heard of it.
said: 'When Dean was about six months old I noticed he was a lot
smaller than he should have been. He was still wearing clothes for a
0-3-month-old baby but the health visitors told me not to worry.
'They said he was just small and
there was nothing wrong with him but I carried on taking him to the
doctor regularly because his appetite was small.'
other ways Dean’s development was quite normal, but when he started
walking at the age of 18 months, Dawn noticed that he would tire more
easily than her other children
'I'm lucky to be so loved': Dean with his mother Dawn Thomas, 41, and her husband Wayne, 43, who care for him full-time.
Dawn said: 'We would be walking along the street and he would complain that his legs were hurting. At first I just thought he was lazy but then I noticed there were certain things he couldn’t do, like cross his legs during assembly at school.'
The mystery was eventually explained when a geneticist broke the news that he had progeria.
Dawn said: 'The day before we were told, the doctor rang up and told us to come in and said that I should bring someone with me. I knew then that it was bad. I thought it might even be cancer because his hair used to fall out so easily.
'There was so little information available about progeria at that time that I basically had to teach myself everything. All we were told was that Dean was ageing eight times faster than normal and that he would probably not live past 13.
'I didn’t know how to break it to Dean at that time because he was so young. I just told him that he had a growth problem.
'It was really hard to take and I ended up on anti-depressants but it was Dean himself who gave me hope, he never let anything get him down.'
Dawn lives in Birmingham with Dean, her husband Wayne, 43, and children Sophie, 15, and Lewis, 12. She also has an older son Nathan, 23, a warehouse assistant, and fosters her niece Annabel Timby, 14.
She split with Dean’s father Mark
Andrews, at that time an airport baggage handler, in 1998 and met Wayne
around the time of her son’s crushing diagnosis.
Now both Dawn and Wayne devote their lives to Dean’s full-time care at their council terrace home in Erdington.
'They said he was just small': Aged two (left), Dean was developing differently from other children and would grow tired more easily. It was not until the age of seven (right) that a geneticist would diagnose him
She said: 'We have just tried to make
every moment count for him as best we could. I’ve never tried to treat
him any differently or tell him that he couldn’t do something, if he
wanted to try something he would have a go.'
Dean said: 'When I was at primary school I wasn’t really aware that there was anything different about me.
'I only really became aware of my condition when I was about 13 and it was decided that I should go to a special school.'
WHAT IS PROGERIA
Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome is an unusual genetic condition that occurs in an estimated one in eight million live births.
The symptoms are similar to normal ageing but appear in childhood and advance rapidly, with the first signs showing in infancy.
Sufferers experience limited growth and alopecia across the whole body. They often share distinctive features including a narrow nose, a small jaw and a large head in relation to their body.
Health issues associated with progeria have much in common with illnesses often suffered by the elderly, including loss of eyesight, kidney failure and heart problems.
Wrinkled skin, hair loss and small, frail bodies add to their 'old' appearance, but sufferers do not experience the mental or motor deterioration associated with normal ageing.
There is no known cure or effective treatment for the condition, and those diagnosed with it rarely live past 13.
Progeria causes rapid ageing and sufferers of the genetic disease are prone to arthritis, eye problems, heart disease and baldness.
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Living life to the full: Dean, pictured aged seven (left) and nine (right), enjoyed an active childhood
Supportive: Dean (left) with younger sister Sophie, mother Dawn, stepfather Wayne, older brother Nathan and brother Lewis
'My friends all had mini-motorbikes around that time too and I struggled to sit comfortably on one. But I still had a go at everything from quad biking to skateboarding.
'If my mate jumped over a wall I would be there right behind him, trying to scramble over it.'
A Birmingham City fan his whole life, Dean was named the club’s disabled supporter of the year and presented with an award by Emile Heskey in 2005.
As a fan of fast cars, Dean began
driving lessons at 17 and passed his test first time. He then found love
with a girl named Emily, who would later become his fiancee, although
sadly the relationship ended earlier this year.
Dean was living life to the full, but then in November last year tragedy struck.
Hero: Left, England footballer Emile Heskey presents Dean with Birmingham City's supporter of the year award. Right, Dean poses for a portrait aged nine, two years after his diagnosis
After suffering frequent
breathlessness Dean was admitted to hospital with suspected pneumonia.
But when doctors investigated, they found he was suffering from
irreversible heart failure.
He now spends most of his days at home where Dawn tends to his every need.
cannot say how much longer he has left and he must take a cocktail of
medications every day. Nevertheless, Dean remains characteristically
said: 'I went to the progeria reunion last year and met Hayley Okines,
Harry Crowther and Ashanti Smith – the other three sufferers in the UK.
It was great to be able to show them what I’ve done with my life and to
give them a bit of inspiration.
'Heart failure has changed my life a
lot and I can’t do a lot of the things that I used to, but I have my
family and friends around me and they keep me going.
Fun-loving: Motoring fan Dean aged 13, being lifted by models at Max Power car show
'There’s nothing they would not do for me and I’m very lucky to be so loved.'
Dean says there are some things he would like to do in the time he has left. He would love to meet his idol comedian Leigh Francis – known for his character Keith Lemon – and he hopes to make it to the next progeria reunion in September, which takes place in Italy.
These days, he loves nothing more than relaxing in a jacuzzi to soothe his swollen limbs – a side affect of the heart failure – but the NHS withdrew his hydrotherapy funding last year. He is currently trying to find somewhere local that will allow him to use their facilities.
Dawn said: 'We are so proud of Dean and everything that he has achieved but I also feel he has missed out on so much.
'Now we are just trying to make the time he has left as comfortable and as happy for him as possible.'