Twelve-year-old Ontlametse Phalatse of South Africa is the first Black child to be diagnosed with progeria, a rare, fatal genetic condition that causes rapid aging.
"I call myself a first lady because I'm the first Black child with this disease.... Which other Black child do you know with this disease?" she told the Associated Press.
Phalatse’s mother says she discovered that something was different about her child when she began developing strange skin rashes at three months old. By her first birthday Phalatse was loosing hair and her skin problems were getting worse.
Children with the disease generally die between the ages of 8 and 21 from health complications such as heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, angina, enlarged heart and heart failure. Despite the low chance of survival, Phalatse participates in research funded by the Progeria Research Foundation at Children's Hospital Boston, giving her access to new drugs that are not yet on the market. So far, the foundation’ research has been hopeful. In 2003, the foundation helped discover the progeria gene.
"I would like to be a psychologist," Phalatse said, "so that I can work on the problems of other people and so that they can accept the way that they are because they can see that I accept the way I am."
According to the Progeria Research Foundation there are approximately 80 children around the world that have the disease.
(Photo: AP Photo/Denis Farrell)