FRANKFORT, Ky. – If he's lucky, Zach Pickard will live past the age of 13.
Zach, now 13 months old, suffers from Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, a disease that accelerates the aging process when the child is 18 to 24 months old. Children with this syndrome die of heart disease at an average age of 13 after aging at a rate six to eight times faster than an average person.
About 100 cases have been formally identified in medical history, and the odds of being diagnosed with it are roughly one in 8 million. For now, Zach is like any other baby, learning to walk, say words like mama and papa and making his family laugh with funny faces.
With his messy blond hair, big blue eyes and infectious smile, Zach attracts attention wherever he goes. Zach was 2 months old when his parents realized something wasn't right. They took him to the doctor for unexplained skin bumps.
At nine months, Zach's parents, Brandon and Tina Pickard, went from doctor to doctor looking for an answer. Then, they ran across Dr. Ann Lucky, a pediatric dermatologist in Cincinnati who thought Zach exhibited enough of the symptoms to warrant a test for progeria.
"At first we didn't believe this was possible because of the rarity of the syndrome," Tina Pickard said. "But I knew by the end of the day, after looking at information on the Internet, that this is what he had." Zach is young enough that he isn't showing many physical symptoms.
As he grows, however, the recognizable traits of progeria will begin to show up: limited growth resulting in a short stature, hair loss, a small face, thin skin and a loss of body fat. The Pickards are trying to raise money and awareness of the rare disease.
Researchers recently discovered the cause of Progeria in 2002. They believe it is caused by a mutation in the gene called LMNA, which makes the Lamin A protein. The defective Lamin A protein renders the nucleus of a cell unstable and that cellular instability appears to lead to the process of premature aging.