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Brave girl, 7, has body of a granny
Date: 09-Jun-2010       
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ON the inside she's like any other bubbly little seven-year-old girl but on the outside she has the face and body of an old woman. Brave Ashanti Elliott-Smith suffers from an incredibly rare incurable condition that makes her age EIGHT TIMES faster than normal.

It means by the time she's 10, she will be as physically frail as a granny aged 80.

And even now, while she plays with her school pals and listens to her favourite pop band JLS, she has to cope with problems of ageing like arthritis and a weakening heart. But Ashanti's mum Phoebe, 24, is determined she'll have as normal and happy a childhood as possible.

Because the youngster's illness - a genetic disorder called Hutchinson Gilford Progeria Syndrome that's shared by just one other child in Britain - reduces life expectancy to 13.

But Phoebe, who has another daughter aged four, told us: "We make the most of each day. "Ashanti's such an easy-going lively little girl - she's so precious.

"I'm so proud of her. She doesn't let her condition bother her at all. She's such a big character and everyone knows when she is in the room."
NEW BORN: I didn't know she didn't have the future I wished for her, says mum
NEW BORN: I didn't know she didn't have the future I wished for her, says mum

While her playmates have bloomed from babies to thriving children, Ashanti has degenerated like a pensioner. Right are snaps from the family album showing the changes, along with Phoebe's thoughts at each stage.

What little hair Ashanti grew as a toddler has gone. She is now bald and has the wizened features of an elderly person - which causes passers-by to stare in the street.

She has very poor grip in her hands, and in just three years will have the arthritic, heart and respiratory conditions of someone in their 80s.

She currently stands at just under 3ft and is just 2st, the usual weight for a three-year-old.
7 MONTHS: 'Our first Christmas. I had started to get a bit worried.'
7 MONTHS: 'Our first Christmas. I had started to get a bit worried.'

But it is unlikely Ashanti will get any bigger.

And her tiny frame is so frail she has to be kept away from poorly kids because illnesses like chicken pox and flu could kill her.

But when Ashanti was born in May 2003, she weighed 5lb 10oz and looked like a healthy baby.

Phoebe said: "I'd had a normal pregnancy and I thought she was perfect. Her dad Albi and I were thrilled."

The first sign that all was not right came at three weeks, when Ashanti's body started to convulse.

Phoebe rushed her to hospital but was shocked when doctors mistakenly thought the tot had been violently shaken by an adult.
1ST BIRTHDAY: 'Just after her first diagnosis. I could not believe she had Progeria'
1ST BIRTHDAY: 'Just after her first diagnosis. I could not believe she had Progeria'

"I was absolutely devastated," said the mum. "Eventually they said she hadn't been and we'd done nothing wrong but it still really upset me.

"I was only 17 when I gave birth but I was one of 11 children so I'd had plenty of experience looking after babies." Medics carried out a barrage of tests to find out what was wrong - and they all came back negative.

But over the next few months Ashanti got worse and worse.

Phoebe, who lives near Brighton, said: "She was still jerking and she wasn't gaining weight and she was still bald - and my health visitor thought I was neglecting her."
3 YEARS: 'She was such an inquisitive toddler, and into everything'
3 YEARS: 'She was such an inquisitive toddler, and into everything'

The worried mum pressed for more tests, and just before Ashanti's first birthday she was sent to London's Great Ormond Street children's hospital. Phoebe said: "A doctor there took one look at her and knew straight away what it was.

"When he told us what Progeria was, I fainted in the room. Afterwards Albi explained to me it would be just like looking after a grandmother.

"He said we had to care for Ashanti as if she was an old person, as her body would age so fast. It was devastating but I knew I had to carry on and cope with it.

"My mum is very close to Ashanti and was especially devastated -she has never been the same since we found out. "It's very difficult for her to accept she is going to outlive her granddaughter."

Progeria is caused by a defective gene but it is not hereditary. Ashanti's little sister Brandy Lou does not have it. There are only 52 other sufferers of Progeria in the world - including 12-year-old Hayley Okines, who lives in Bexhill-on-Sea, near Ashanti. The girls have met a couple of times and get on well.

But Ashanti's dad Albi Elliott, 40, told how the condition can take a terrible toll. "Ashanti's my world and my life is devastated by the fact she is so ill," he said."I used to own a metal recycling company and I've given it up to spend as much time with Ashanti as I can.

"I'm so proud of her - she is a great daughter."

For Phoebe, one of the hardest things is when strangers gawp.

She said: "I used to get very angry when people stared at Ashanti. I wasn't ashamed of her - I just didn't want them making her feel uncomfortable.


Staring is the worst

"Staring is the worst - I prefer it when people just ask me what is wrong with her.

"If other children stare at her, Ashanti just smiles and says, 'It's because I'm beautiful.'" In fact, the plucky little girl won't let anything get her down, and tries to get involved with everything her friends do.

Phoebe said: "At school sports days she can't do any running races but they will let her take part in an event like throwing bean bags.
"If her knee hurts because of the arthritis and she asks me why, I just tell her it is because she is a 'special little girl'. "She is so brave. If she falls, she picks herself up and gets on with it."

Like other girls, Ashanti goes to a mainstream school, loves playing with her new puppy Samson and is a massive fan of Girls Aloud and JLS.
Her mum told us: "Ashanti has a poster of JLS's Aston Merrygold on her ceiling so she can see him when she goes to bed at night. He's her absolute heartthrob.

"I took her to see them in concert last year and one of the boys blew her a kiss. Her poor legs went wobbly at the knees."

Ashanti also loves horses, so Phoebe is trying to arrange lessons with a riding school for the disabled, because she is too frail for normal saddles.

And in the last few years the family have enjoyed happy days out and holidays, including to Florida's Disney World.

Phoebe has created a memory box of keepsakes, including every painting and drawing Ashanti does at school, and all her clothes.

She said: "I keep everything that Ashanti does because she is so precious.

"I've not even thrown a single sock away. She's the most amazing little girl and so full of life. Every moment is precious."

Last year Ashanti embarked on a trial treatment programme at a hospital in Marseille, in the south of France, where she goes once every few months.

It is designed to improve her quality of life - but sadly it won't extend it.

Her parents know they cannot prevent the inevitable but have decided not to tell Ashanti the full extent of her illness.

Phoebe explained: "She understands most of her condition but we don't talk to her about the prognosis as we don't want to scare her.

"To tell your daughter the truth about something like that - it is the hardest thing in the world.
Source: notw.co.uk
1 to 10 of 30
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wow i could never be that strong. you baby are my new role modal
Date: 2010-06-14 01:15:53
Mackenzie F
Woow she is really pretty! A kid on facebook is making fun of her.. i told him to f*** off because what if this was him? Stay strong baby! Good luck to the family! xoxoxo Have the bests :)
Date: 2010-06-12 22:22:52
stay strong ashanti, your adorable
Date: 2010-06-12 21:22:56
wow, thats touching. it really makes you think twice about things. I admire this little girl, live strong honey, your beautiful in every way possible
Date: 2010-06-12 18:53:04
shes so adorable :] i want her :D i hope they find a cure or something to help her ): i think i saw this on t.v. not too long ago.
Date: 2010-06-12 18:51:44
I will pray for her. :) I'm happy that she's so brave. she's a great inspiration. She looks very cute in the picture. and I hope she'll get well soon. :D
Date: 2010-06-12 04:14:32
i feel bad and everything but did anyone catch that if the mom is 24 right now, and the dad is 40 and the mom had her at 17 then the dad was 33 when ashanti was conceived, and the mom was most likely 16?
Date: 2010-06-12 02:24:02
i seriously admire her, with how she just gets on with her life, when u see other people complianing about such small pathetic trival things, good on ya girl! :D
Date: 2010-06-12 00:14:48
Even though I don't know young Ashanti..I'm telling her to keep it up because every one is so proup of her. Well I am very proud and if that was me and I acted like Asanti I would be very proud of my self...Keep it up Ashanti!!
Date: 2010-06-11 21:14:34
Mary Hopkins
You're blessed to have a daughter as strong and brave as Ashanti. I wish her all the best, you have a very amazing daughter and you should take each precious day like it's your last. Ashanti is beautiful, may love be with her at all times.
Date: 2010-06-11 20:50:46

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