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The girl who doesn't age
June 23, 2009 2:49 PM   Subscribe


 
what a fascinating story... thanks for posting

maybe she's a changeling?
posted by jammy at 2:53 PM on June 23, 2009


More evidence that there's no god...
posted by Huck500 at 2:54 PM on June 23, 2009


I read that article a few minutes ago after I saw the title on Twitter. I sure didn't expect that she'd still look like a baby at age 16. I wonder if this is related to progeria - some internal clock that can run way too slowly or far too fast.
posted by lukemeister at 2:58 PM on June 23, 2009


Yes, fascinating indeed.

Dateline NBC (2005) : A Child Frozen in Time | video -- 08:34.

News video (2005).
posted by ericb at 2:59 PM on June 23, 2009


And linked from that site, a little something to cleanse the palate after reading about never-ending cuteness: horrible, unexplained browser-resizing scalp lesions.
posted by univac at 2:59 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


More evidence that there's no god...

Or, if you spin it right, that there is one.
posted by ORthey at 3:00 PM on June 23, 2009


I feel like the article really didn't explain why she was so different from other children with extremely stunted development.
posted by whoaali at 3:03 PM on June 23, 2009


I wished this condition on my kitten, but then she grew a bit. She's still kitteny-playful, but still... They're so cute when they're little.
posted by heyho at 3:05 PM on June 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


A similar story on the same family from 2005. From the same year, video. Irritatingly, I'm unable to find any scholarly information.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:05 PM on June 23, 2009


I feel like the article really didn't explain why she was so different from other children with extremely stunted development.

From the article: Brooke's body is not developing as a coordinated unit, but as independent parts that are out of sync. She has never been diagnosed with any known genetic syndrome or chromosomal abnormality that would help explain why.

Here's Brook at 16. She doesn't look like an infant, exactly, but I'd place her well under 10 years old.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:07 PM on June 23, 2009


The picture in the article is misleading- that picture is from when she was 3 (according to the caption in the slideshow).
posted by nzero at 3:09 PM on June 23, 2009


fascinating sums it up
posted by gagglezoomer at 3:10 PM on June 23, 2009


Thanks, filthy light thief and nzero. I didn't notice that. In the picture when she's 16, her face looks kind of old. I didn't understand the statement in the article about 'independent parts that are out of sync'. What's developing faster?
posted by lukemeister at 3:15 PM on June 23, 2009


There's an entertaining sidebar of internet bullshit-calling to this if you do a little googling—every time the story gets some media attention again, people start calling hoax on it, without apparently bothering to google and notice that other people did the same thing during the previous media cycle.

Skepticism is fun and all, but at least make sure you aren't like eight years late to the party.
posted by cortex at 3:15 PM on June 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


Cripes. If this is real, I wonder what would happen if she got cancer - not that I wish it on her. Cancer is an issue about cell division and cell death, and so is aging.
posted by kldickson at 3:19 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, there's a difference between not aging and not growing and developing. Clearly her face is showing some signs of growth, but not her brain or the rest of her body. fMRI would be really interesting.
posted by Maias at 3:19 PM on June 23, 2009


There's an entertaining sidebar of internet bullshit-calling to this if you do a little googling

I'll admit that my first instinct was to google for skeptical sources.

Damn, this is weird.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:29 PM on June 23, 2009


A video from MSNBC.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:30 PM on June 23, 2009


I wonder if the near-total unaging, her recovery from the various medical problems described, and her mental non-development are all due to a drastically over-effective healing process - ie, perhaps she can't grow or form new memories properly, because her body restores itself too completely.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:34 PM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


"I wished this condition on my kitten, but then she grew a bit. She's still kitteny-playful, but still... They're so cute when they're little."

ya know...sometimes humor (or making fun of someone's disability) is fun and we laugh and say, oh, you're so funny...

but, that probably isn't going to happen this time...

There really ARE some topics that should be discussed and considered without the meta-snark we all know and love.
posted by HuronBob at 3:38 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]



Can you imagine having a toddler for the rest of your life? Sigh.
posted by kestrel251 at 3:42 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks filthylightthief, I saw that, but I guess I wasn't really struck by how important that apparently is.
posted by whoaali at 3:47 PM on June 23, 2009


What will her life be like? Will she be able to date, have sexual relationships with men/women? What kind of men would consider it? You'd be called every name in the book. Probably can't drive, even doing dishes would be difficult, using the toilet, just...everything. Will she still be essentially an infant at age 80? No wrinkles, no organ breakdown, or what? I hope she's willing to be studied long-term, as I'm sure that there is a great deal we could learn from her unique traits. Most of all though, I hope she finds some happiness in her life.
posted by jamstigator at 4:03 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


And linked from that site, a little something to cleanse the palate after reading about never-ending cuteness: horrible, unexplained browser-resizing scalp lesions.

OH MY GOD WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT MAN'S SCALP?
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:04 PM on June 23, 2009


HuronBob, I do not believe that is snark. Some people have done some handwaving research into how to make a "permakitten." I believe we even had a deleted AskMe about it at one point.

There really ARE some topics where people can discuss them without the finger-waggling we all know and love.
posted by adipocere at 4:06 PM on June 23, 2009 [11 favorites]


kestron251, one of my thoughts was that when our boys were little we could hardly wait to get out from under the constant expense of diapers...
posted by lhauser at 4:06 PM on June 23, 2009


jamstigator: she has the brain of a 6 month old and it doesn't appear that will ever change. That pretty much rules out any and all adult activities.
posted by whoaali at 4:08 PM on June 23, 2009


as a scientist I find this fascinating, as a person I'm struck by how well adjusted that family sounds. good show all around.
posted by slapshot57 at 4:11 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


(Sorry, off-topic for just a second.)

Yeah, sorry, Huron Bob, if that offended you; it wasn't my intent. But... I was discussing the post. You? You were discussing me. This post isn't about my comment.

posted by heyho at 4:13 PM on June 23, 2009


At Brooke's Bat Mitzvah. I can't even imagine what that ceremony must have been like. Isn't the Bat/Bar Mitzvah supposed to represent becoming an adult? How do you hold one for a permanent infant?
posted by Captain Cardanthian! at 4:13 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I missed that on the brain (was skimming while making dinner). I figured if she had a Bat Mitzvah, that she was more or less an adult in the mind, else it doesn't seem right to have that ceremony. Then again, I'm not Jewish, so what do I know. But a 'coming of age' adulthood party for an infant in body and mind, even if not age, seems a little out of place to my agnostic self.
posted by jamstigator at 4:18 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I wished this condition on my kitten, but then she grew a bit. She's still kitteny-playful, but still... They're so cute when they're little.

You know, if they do isolate what's causing her condition, I would expect perma-kittens and perma-puppies to start showing up in pet stores. I'm not sure how I feel about that.
posted by heathkit at 4:19 PM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Four girls! Wow.
posted by jabberjaw at 4:22 PM on June 23, 2009


Jeffty Is Five.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:23 PM on June 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


if they do isolate what's causing her condition, I would expect perma-kittens and perma-puppies to start showing up in pet stores

Oh my god, you're entirely right. That's such a terrible thought, and people would be all over them. I feel a little sick.
posted by Captain Cardanthian! at 4:24 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Goddam Sídhe.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:29 PM on June 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Man that really creeped me out.
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:36 PM on June 23, 2009


What will her life be like? Will she be able to date, have sexual relationships with men/women? What kind of men would consider it? You'd be called every name in the book. Probably can't drive, even doing dishes would be difficult, using the toilet, just...everything. Will she still be essentially an infant at age 80? No wrinkles, no organ breakdown, or what? I hope she's willing to be studied long-term

She has the brain of a toddler, and she still wears a diaper apparently. She will probably start wrinkling and aging. Development and aging are really different processes.
posted by delmoi at 4:38 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


perma-puppies to start showing up in pet stores

This is most small dog breeds already. Neoteny via breeding takes a while, but dogs like chihuahuas and Boston Terriers are already perma-puppies. And pugs, god, they already breed them to be mentally retarded their entire lives.

So, scary, yes, in the future, not so much.
posted by GuyZero at 4:49 PM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm reading this with my toddler sitting beside me. In some ways these parents are fortunate: they have a beautiful family, and caring for a profoundly handicapped child who is the size of a toddler is at least physically easier than caring for a profoundly handicapped child who is the size of an adult.

In so many other ways, of course, this is a tragedy of epic proportions. Its almost like a parents wish that somehow, horribly came true: "She's so cute. I wish she could be this age forever." What parent hasn't said those words.

But the reality of it. The night wakings, the crib, the endless diapers, the knowledge that this tiny child (and make no mistake -- mentally and physically she is a child, even when she chronologically becomes an adult) will be your focus of care for the rest of our life -- and that her care will be the responsibility of her siblings once you've gone -- the fear of what will happen to her ... an unimaginable nightmare.
posted by anastasiav at 4:51 PM on June 23, 2009 [8 favorites]


"Why doesn't she age?" Howard Greenberg, 52, asked of his daughter. "Is she the fountain of youth?"

Would you say you're on cloud eight?
posted by anazgnos at 4:52 PM on June 23, 2009


That's horrible. The part where the mom has to lie about her daughter's age when they go out, just because people will not believe her condition.

Also horrible: some of the jokey comments here that clearly were not thought through once, let alone twice.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:11 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Before I read the article, I was imagining a, say 62-year-old woman who looks like a 14-year-old in old-lady clothes, and with something a little not-right around the eyes and mouth. My expectations, once again, were totally shattered by the reality.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 5:22 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


So even though different parts of her are aging at least to some degree at different rates, she still has the mental capacity of a six month old? I don't understand - why would you then put her in a special education class? You wouldn't put any normal six month old in a special education class, and if the differences are only external, I don't understand what can be accomplished.
posted by Evangeline at 5:25 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


A case study of “disorganized development” and its possible relevance to genetic determinants of aging, 2009 by Lawrence C. Pakula (Brooke's paediatrician) & others. [abstract only without subscription]
posted by peacay at 5:35 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Cripes. If this is real, I wonder what would happen if she got cancer - not that I wish it on her. Cancer is an issue about cell division and cell death, and so is aging.

She did get cancer:

At 4, she fell into a lethargy that caused her to sleep for 14 days. Then, doctors diagnosed a brain tumor, and the Greenbergs bought a casket for her.

"We were preparing for our child to die," Howard Greenberg said. "We were saying goodbye. And, then, we got a call that there was some change; that Brooke had opened her eyes and she was fine. There was no tumor.


Based on this, I would guess (wildly) she doesn't age because she lacks some part of the necessary cellular equipment for cells to be able to divide and produce viable offspring without dying. The cancer, perhaps, divided a certain number of times and then just spontaneously died because it reached her abnormally low limit on cell divisions. I'd also guess that her body has responded to this inability to divide by damping down all demands to divide-- or maybe those signals come as part of a positive feedback process where cell division begets further cell division.

I'd like to see the father, but I wasn't able to locate a picture of him. The girls have somewhat long faces, and I wonder if that could imply a borderline fragile X condition on his part which is worse in his sperm cells. Four girls is consistent with this since severely fragile X male embryos can be inviable.

The mom also has a long face, and in this scenario, perhaps Brooke has severe fragile X in both of her X chromosomes. But I'd think the doctors and researchers would have noticed such a thing already.
posted by jamjam at 5:44 PM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Peacay's link supports the idea that her cells are unable to divide and produce viable offspring:

Dental and bone ages are pre-teen, while telomere length and telomerase inactivity suggest a cellular age at least comparable to her chronological age

The telomere length means her cells have divided "at least" as much as an average 16 year old's. The fact that she is no larger despite all this cell division means that most of the daughter cells did not survive.
posted by jamjam at 5:57 PM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


why would you then put her in a special education class?

Because it's free child care, giving the mom and the rest of the family time for errands, careers, and sanity breaks?

Here's the abstract from the paper peacay mentions above:


"In 1932, Bidder postulated that senescence results from “continued action of a (genetic) regulator (of development) after growth ceases (maturation occurs).” A 16-year-old girl who physically appears to be an infant has not been diagnosed with any known genetic syndrome or chromosomal abnormality. The subject's anthropometric measurements are that of an 11-month-old. Coordinated development of structures for swallowing/breathing has not occurred resulting in dysfunctional digestive and respiratory systems. Brain structure, proprioception and neuroendocrine functions are infantile. Dental and bone ages are pre-teen, while telomere length and telomerase inactivity suggest a cellular age at least comparable to her chronological age. Sub-telomeric microdeletions known to be responsible for developmental delay and chromosomal imbalances are not present. Findings suggest that the subject suffers from “developmental disorganization” resulting from spontaneous mutation of Bidder's putative “regulator” of development, thereby providing an opportunity to locate and identify developmental gene(s) responsible for ensuring integrated and coordinated change in form and function from conception to adulthood. If their continued expression beyond maturation erodes internal order to promote senescence then further study of her DNA and testing of homologous genes in animal models may provide clues to genetic determinants of aging and human life span."
posted by sebastienbailard at 6:11 PM on June 23, 2009


Because it's free child care, giving the mom and the rest of the family time for errands, careers, and sanity breaks?

According to the article, the girl has a day time caretaker.
posted by Evangeline at 6:31 PM on June 23, 2009


Fascinating, and heartbreaking for that family; I wonder how long she will live? If some parts of her age normally, presumably she would have an average lifespan, although if others don't...would it be longer? Presumably her sisters would become her eventual caretakers.

She uses a stomach tube, which is a huge infection risk, but she seems to fight off infection fairly well to have made it this far.

I am impressed by how her family wants research on her to help with understanding (and maybe slowing) aging; at the same time, to see parts of her "age" but not develop must be so difficult to cope with.
posted by emjaybee at 6:31 PM on June 23, 2009


Jamjam, the father appears in the videos linked above.

The telomere length means her cells have divided "at least" as much as an average 16 year old's. The fact that she is no larger despite all this cell division means that most of the daughter cells did not survive.

She no longer looks entirely like a normal baby, inasmuch as she ever really did; her skin and hair looks, as far as I can tell, more like skin and hair that's been around 16 years (I'd say teenage skin, but that implies pubertal changes, which don't seem to be the case).

This guy, Khagendra Thapa Magar by name, may have a similar condition, but apparently without the mental retardation and hip problems.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:38 PM on June 23, 2009


Wasn't there a story a couple of years ago about a couple that took steps to prevent their developmently disable child from growing beyond a certain size? I can't recall the details and perhaps I'm making it up in my head.

I'm certainly not saying that her parents did anything to her in this cas - far from it, it seems that her parents have done everything in their power to help her age. In fact, the Greeneberg's seem to be handling this situation with tremendous compassion, grace and dignity.

Fascinating and sobering links. Thank you, mr_crash_davis_mark_II.
posted by Joey Michaels at 7:46 PM on June 23, 2009


Wasn't there a story a couple of years ago about a couple that took steps to prevent their developmently disable child from growing beyond a certain size?

Yes.
posted by applemeat at 7:56 PM on June 23, 2009


her skin and hair looks, as far as I can tell, more like skin and hair that's been around 16 years

I notice it in her ears and her mouth (partly because I suspect she has a full set of teeth, giving her mouth the shape of an adult mouth rather than a baby mouth). I also wonder what's up with her one eye. And, too, part of it is simply an alertness, a very subtly different way of looking at things that you can see in the family videos in the NBC piece linked above.
posted by anastasiav at 7:56 PM on June 23, 2009


Her face will almost certainly continue to age, as most signs of wear and tear come from exposure to sunlight.
posted by hermitosis at 8:06 PM on June 23, 2009


"Once I am named as the world's smallest man then I can fulfil my dream of visiting the United States of America," says Khagendra, "I can show off my dancing moves and I can show people how good I am at karate"

This will be a youtube phenomenon of starwars kid proportions.
posted by kaibutsu at 8:13 PM on June 23, 2009


Evangeline: how about because she is 16 and legally required to be in school? And because the school is legally required to provide accommodation to her (i.e. therapy, which would otherwise be really expensive if they wanted her to have any chance of professionals trying to aid her mental development.)
posted by agentofselection at 8:19 PM on June 23, 2009


I feel for her parents.
posted by nickyskye at 8:36 PM on June 23, 2009


As a special ed teacher of kids with severe and profound multiple disabilities, I can address the question of why to put her in special ed. Although I don't have any students who physically look like a toddler, I do have students with the mental development of a toddler.

You put them in education classes for the same reason you put all kids in education classes, to help them learn and develop to the best of their potential. Even though at this level, what we teach this kids is very rudimentary, it can make a huge impact on their and their families lives. For example, just teaching a child the sign for "more" to get more water to drink is huge. Or teaching them to point to a picture of a bed or a plate of food to indicate whether they are agitated because they are tired or hungry has a huge impact on their quality of life. All of these kids communicate, albeit many do not communicate symbolically (with language or symbols), learning how they communicate and how to get the most of how they can communicate is a huge thing for parents to understand, and we help them learn those things.

Respite care certainly is another element that is helpful to these families, as is social interaction with peers (both able and disabled kids) is enjoyable to most of these kids. But there are educational goals that, although very basic, are extremely important to quality of life.
posted by Bueller at 8:39 PM on June 23, 2009 [29 favorites]


You know, if they do isolate what's causing her condition, I would expect perma-kittens and perma-puppies to start showing up in pet stores. I'm not sure how I feel about that.

It will certainly put a crimp in my kitten-binding business.
posted by Ritchie at 8:43 PM on June 23, 2009


Binding? You monster.

I use tiny glass bottles.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:58 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Crimped kittens? Sign me up. Crimped I can fit a whole fried kitten in my mouth.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:02 PM on June 23, 2009


why would you then put her in a special education class?

Because socialization and socializing are important to human beings.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:19 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


follow me on this one for a second:

Did you ever notice that our Solar System seems to provide an astonishing array of planetary types, all hanging around in the same vicinity?
Mercury = a desiccated ball
Venus = the "too hot" poisonous sauna
Earth = the one Goldilocks chose
Mars = the "too cold" arid waste AKA the "failed to thrive smaller sibling"
Jupiter = a solar system, waiting to happen (thank you, Arthur C. Clarke)
Saturn = Hey, lookit! Rings!
[Jupiter and Saturn are also the "gas giants" distinguishing them from the inner planets in fundamental ways]
Uranus = Hey, rings, too! And a tipped-over rotational axis! And a cold core!
Neptune = Hey, rings, too! And many planets! And weird weather! And a blazing-hot core!
[Uranus and Neptune are sometimes called the "ice giants" to distinguish them from the gas giants, and from the inner planets]

It's like a huge catalogue of planetary types was magically dropped into orbit around Our Sun to provide examples for us to study.

It's almost enough to make you think there was some kind of Intelligence at work in the cosmos...but not quite, for me, anyway.

But maybe, in some strange way, this amazing little girl, and the many other examples of unusual life on our planet are another way of pointing out or demonstrating the many ways we can be different from each other, and still be human.
[I recall a mefi post from a few years ago (too lazy to look it up right now) about a little girl who had no pain receptors in her nerves. She literally felt no pain. She's broken bones, scratched her poor eyes blind, etc. and all because she didn't feel the pain that would make the rest of us stop.]

These people each seem to personify ONE characteristic of human life to an exaggerated degree...

I don't know where I'm going here...my train of thought has left the station...does this make sense to anyone?
posted by I, Credulous at 9:32 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, isn't she as cute as a Benjamin Button!
posted by ed at 9:35 PM on June 23, 2009


So basically some people exist for the edification of others. What a great humanitarian you are, Credulous.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:36 PM on June 23, 2009 [7 favorites]


Mind-bending...
posted by fuq at 9:56 PM on June 23, 2009


I am so impressed by how awesome this family is. If I were a thirteen-year-old girl with a sixteen-year-old sister who looked and acted like a toddler you can bet I would not be as good-natured and quotable as the young lady in the article. If this girl had to be born I'm glad she was born to people willing to take care of her and plan their lives around her.
posted by crinklebat at 10:10 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Pope Guilty: I was, I think, trying to get at something like the grand wonder of the huge variety of life and ways to live it that surround us, and how a person like Brooke can really bring that into focus for us...but I guess all I managed to get across was fodder for cynics.
My bad.
posted by I, Credulous at 10:15 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


how a person like Brooke can really bring that into focus for us

Yes, and there's nothing wrong whatsoever with reflecting on her remarkable existence (or that of the rings of Saturn) and learning what lessons if any you can ... but do not mistake the evocation of an emotional response for the intellectual realization of a fact.

More importantly, do realize that "teaching you" is not what she (or the rings of Saturn) is for. She has her own, perhaps happy, existence which, if it has a purpose at all, primarily has that purpose for herself.

I do think I understand what you're trying to express, and you're not outright wrong; but the poetic or narrative meaning of a thing, or person, or experience is not the same as the thing, or person, or experience itself. It's the tree falling in the forest when no-one is within earshot - it does make a sound, but it is not heard (by a person, anyway - the forest is full of animals with ears, but few if any of them will be able to pass the experience on through communication). There is a difference between making a sound, and being heard. There is a difference between having, and living, a profoundly bizarre life; and being an example for others.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:34 PM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


How horrible, but also fascinating. It wouldn't help Brooke, but someone could get a Nobel Prize from figuring out what has happened to her.

I wonder how long she will live?
That's the million dollar question! If Brooke's telomeres are getting shorter, then presumably her cells will eventually hit the Hayflick Limit and she'll die, but that could be decades from now...

The telomere length means her cells have divided "at least" as much as an average 16 year old's. The fact that she is no larger despite all this cell division means that most of the daughter cells did not survive.
That's an interesting theory. But she's still growing skin, hair and nails, right? I mean, if most of her cells can't successfully reproduce, wouldn't she be unable to replenish the parts of her body that constantly wear out and need to be replaced?

I think the fact that she's still got baby teeth means that she's just not developing, like the doctor says in that abstract. Her individual cells are normal, except for some mysterious mutation that has turned off the gene(s) responsible for coordinating the growth process.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:45 PM on June 23, 2009


No idea who wrote it, but there's a scifi story about exactly this, told over the span of 50 years. All over the world, parents begin having children that seem to age in years rather than months. At 20 they are barely 1.5 feet tall and can't talk. By 50, where the story ends, the children can talk and understand a lot, and are physically and mentally 5 years old, but with a repository of 50 years of human knowledge. It's written as the diary of a mother whose child, physically 5 but actually 50 years old, waits on her 70-80-year old parents as they lay in bed, old and gray, unable to walk. The story never explains why, it just says that all of a sudden, children start aging much more slowly, and reflects on what the ramifications of that might be.

I think it's called "The Long Ones". Having read that...this makes me wonder.
posted by saysthis at 11:34 PM on June 23, 2009


I, Credulous - what about Pluto? Please don't tell me you're one of those people.
posted by deborah at 1:16 AM on June 24, 2009


As one of those rare humans who would wouldn't mind living a few thousand years -- if the key to immortality is permanent stagnation, well... thanks but no thanks.

To me, it sounds like she's a bit like some varieties of shark, with amazing powers of healing / resistance and extraordinarily long lifespans... and sharks are rather ancient, primative creatures.

Perhaps, rather than thinking about what makes this girl special, it's better to think about what evolution has given us that it has denied to her.
posted by markkraft at 1:56 AM on June 24, 2009


saysthis- That sounds fascinating, but a quick googling got me zilch. I've tried adding keywords, "sci fi," "aging," "diary," "mother," etc., but still nothing. I know you say you don't remember the author or for sure what it's called, but if it jumps into your mind would you care to drop me a line?
posted by Captain Cardanthian! at 2:00 AM on June 24, 2009


Vampire!
posted by polyglot at 2:26 AM on June 24, 2009


That's just it, markkraft. What she doesn't have is the ability to grow. There's... something in the body that switches on the growth process, some genes maybe, and in Brooke those genes stopped working reliably when she was about six months old. They still work in fits and starts, which makes some parts of her body grow a little while others do not, but the overal effect is to stop her development cold. So Brooke won't age, but she isn't immortal either.

True immortals, like amoebas and bacteriums, can replicate their cells without limit. But human cells can only reproduce a certain number of times before their telomeres reach a critical length and reproduction stops altogether. It's a kind of clock inside every cell that ticks down with each division - and when the alarm goes off that's it, no more life. That's the outer bound.

Senescence is something different. That's the process of gradual breakdown that we commonly call "aging," and it's senescence that tends to kill us long before we reach the outer bound. After we pass through the age of maximum fertility our bodies begin to age, slowly breaking down because that's what they're built to do. From an evolutionary perspective, our genes no longer need us after we've passed them on to a new generation, so our bodies self destruct. Errors accumulate in the DNA, healing processes don't work as well as they should, everything begins to slow down and fall apart. But it doesn't have to be that way. That's just programming, not destiny.

We can't go past the outer bound, but in theory there's no reason why we should age. We could live healthy, youthful lives and then die peacefully in our sleep at age 124 or so if our bodies were programmed differently. Brooke may hold the key to how that programming works.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:42 AM on June 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


She doesn't still have baby teeth. The scientific article said that a dentist put her dental age at around 8 years.
posted by gaspode at 5:22 AM on June 24, 2009


The only thing I have to add to this, in response to the fooferall about fountain of youth and such, is this.
posted by fnerg at 5:50 AM on June 24, 2009


gaspode, most 8 years olds still have a majority of "baby teeth" in their mouths...
posted by I, Credulous at 7:01 AM on June 24, 2009


oh, and, backup.
posted by I, Credulous at 7:12 AM on June 24, 2009


Evangeline: how about because she is 16 and legally required to be in school?

Christ, guys, I'm not sure why my question has prompted such animosity. I was genuinely curious about her potential for development. The article makes it sound as if she's mentally stuck at 6 months. You probably wouldn't try to teach a 6-month old how to sign, and I don't know too many parents who worry about "socializing" their child at 6 months. Plus like I said, she already has a full-time caretaker and a family that has scheduled their lives around her.

But Bueller certainly knows more about this than I do, so I stand corrected. My apologies if I somehow offended anyone. Of course everything possible should be done to help her develop, if development is possible.
posted by Evangeline at 7:28 AM on June 24, 2009


What a heartbreaking story. :(
posted by zarq at 7:45 AM on June 24, 2009


Brooke may hold the key to how that programming works.

I thought you said "senescence" or aging was something different from growth, though. It seems to me that there is no reason to think she ages differently, just that she grows differently. IN other words, why would we think she will not live an ordinary life span, even with ordinary changes in aging (i.e., wrinkles or less firm skin as she gets older, eventually grey hair, etc) but simply never grow?

This seems like it could help us understand things about nature/nurture and development, if she really does have the normal system of a 6 month old frozen in time, but I don't see how it tells us about the programming of aging any more than anyone else, if that's not affected - which, if the two are distinct, there is no reason yet to think is.
posted by mdn at 8:01 AM on June 24, 2009


She survived surgery for seven perforated stomach ulcers. She suffered a brain seizure followed by what was diagnosed as a stroke that weeks later left no apparent damage.

At 4, she fell into a lethargy that caused her to sleep for 14 days. Then, doctors diagnosed a brain tumor... And, then, we got a call that there was some change; that Brooke had opened her eyes and she was fine. There was no tumor. She overcomes every obstacle that is thrown her way."


On top of an already completely weird story, this is just a super-bizzaro-cherry. Not only does she age wrong, she is also apparently self healing.

At this point, I'm thinking that she's a baby Highlander, and that the reason we haven't heard about others with this condition is that, you know, there can be only one...
posted by quin at 8:15 AM on June 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


I thought you said "senescence" or aging was something different from growth, though. It seems to me that there is no reason to think she ages differently, just that she grows differently. IN other words, why would we think she will not live an ordinary life span, even with ordinary changes in aging (i.e., wrinkles or less firm skin as she gets older, eventually grey hair, etc) but simply never grow?

That's certainly possible. Maybe a comparison between Brooke's condition and progeria would be helpful. If there are mutations in the same genes, then that might imply that the two conditions are mirror images of each other. If not, then perhaps growth and aging are two different processes.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:20 AM on June 24, 2009


I, Credulous: "follow me on this one for a second:
Did you ever notice that our Solar System seems to provide an astonishing array of planetary types, all hanging around in the same vicinity?
[...]
It's like a huge catalogue of planetary types was magically dropped into orbit around Our Sun to provide examples for us to study. It's almost enough to make you think there was some kind of Intelligence at work in the cosmos...but not quite, for me, anyway.
"

I'm sorry to say it, but your viewpoint on the variety of planets in our solar system is warped by the fact that we don't have any other solar systems nearly which we can inspect with such fidelity. There could be all kinds of exotic planets out there of which we have no knowledge. To say that it's suspicious that we have one of each, when we don't know how many types there are, seems a bit fallacious.

But maybe, in some strange way, this amazing little girl, and the many other examples of unusual life on our planet are another way of pointing out or demonstrating the many ways we can be different from each other, and still be human.
[I recall a mefi post from a few years ago (too lazy to look it up right now) about a little girl who had no pain receptors in her nerves. She literally felt no pain. She's broken bones, scratched her poor eyes blind, etc. and all because she didn't feel the pain that would make the rest of us stop.]


Augh, I'd almost forgotten about her. Such a tragedy.

But to respond to your point, there are over six billion people in the world. That is a vast array of random permutations, enough to make a great many edge cases available for our examination. We know of this girl because her family is really amazingly together and awesome, enough that the news feels it won't squick people out too much to know of her. Imagine this poor girl were born to an equally poor single mother living in a trailer park without much outside help? The pressure to resort to, let us say, illegal methods to end the problem would be great. There could be many examples of this problem that never reach our eyes.

These people each seem to personify ONE characteristic of human life to an exaggerated degree...

There are lots of characteristics of human life that don't even have names, but so great is the number of people in our world that we're pretty much assured in getting a good mix of representative samples. And don't forget the media has its own problems acting as information gatekeepers; there could be all kinds of interesting, tragic, wonderful, awesome, etc. cases out there we'll never hear of, because they don't fit that 5-minute, end-of-show "lighter side" news segment format, or its web-based equivalent.

In summary: your arguments have the character of being like the anthropic principle, possibly useful but rife with unknown variables that, in the grimy words of Dick Cheney, "we don't know we don't know." It is tricky to make logical deductions based upon what we see assuming it is the entirety of possible experience.
posted by JHarris at 12:25 PM on June 24, 2009


<nitpick>
That was Donald Rumsfeld.
</nitpick>
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:21 PM on June 24, 2009


I, Credulous said: "It's like a huge catalogue of planetary types was magically dropped into orbit around Our Sun to provide examples for us to study. It's almost enough to make you think there was some kind of Intelligence at work in the cosmos...but not quite, for me, anyway.
"

and Jharris said: I'm sorry to say it, but your viewpoint on the variety of planets in our solar system is warped by the fact that we don't have any other solar systems nearly which we can inspect with such fidelity. There could be all kinds of exotic planets out there of which we have no knowledge. To say that it's suspicious that we have one of each, when we don't know how many types there are, seems a bit fallacious.


I've been reading astronomy and science fiction since just about the time I started choosing books for myself to read (so, 30+ years now): I'm quite aware of the potential variety of planet types out there. Thanks to Douglas Adams for pointing out that in an infinite universe (if ours be such), anything you can imagine must exist somewhere: A planet where mattresses grow wild like trees and shrubs? Sure! and they can talk, too! A planet where screwdrivers grow on trees? That to!
I therefore didn't intend to suggest that these 8 (sorry, Pluto & Charon) planets represent ALL the possible types of planets. That would be just silly.
posted by I, Credulous at 7:34 AM on June 25, 2009


the Curious Case of Brooke Greenberg.
posted by atsotsis at 12:26 PM on June 25, 2009


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