Forty-year-old trapped in child s body
Forty-year-old trapped in child's body

At first glance, Nicky Freeman looks like an average 10-year-old boy, but his small stature belies his true age.

Mr Freeman is 40. He is trapped in a body which grows one year in every four. He celebrated his 40th birthday in December by graduating to size 10 children's clothing.

His bones are the size of a 10-year-old child. At 16, he had the bone structure of a four-year-old.

Mr Freeman has defied the odds to reach middle age. He was born in Esperance, one month overdue with hydrocephalous - fluid on the brain and a large head.

In the days following his birth, doctors told Kayleen Freeman her son would not live. To this day, Ms Freeman cannot help but wonder whether his multiple disabilities were caused by an anti-histamine she took for allergies during her pregnancy.

"Five women in Esperance who took it had spontaneous abortions and another had a child with a serious disability," she said.

Mr Freeman did not walk until he was almost two and after he did not seek toys to play with, doctors realised he was blind. His pituitary gland was also found to perform very slowly.

As a toddler, to cope with the swelling in his brain, Mr Freeman would not eat or drink for days at a time.

The swelling affected his hearing and he could not stand loud noise.

Doctors attempted to drain the liquid in his head by inserting a shunt into the lining of his brain. The procedure proved fruitless after they found his brain was absorbing the fluid.

Mrs Freeman said the procedure was so traumatic for her son that for almost six months he stopped walking, eating and drinking.

He never spoke again.

Again, doctors warned Mrs Freeman her son's death was imminent. Despite his hardships, Mrs Freeman said her eldest son's life was full.

"He is a fighter and he is meant to be here," she said. "He loves horse riding and in the season goes up to three times a week. He loves travel, especially long car trips."

She believes Mr Freeman's "true age" will never be discovered because he has no language.

"Nicky is extremely efficient in body language," she said. "If he doesn't want to eat something or do something you are certainly not left in any doubt about the fact. He may only be small, but he is 40 and a man."

Mrs Freeman, who has three other healthy children, said she often pondered whether his lifespan would exceed the average life expectancy.

"My friend Anne asked me years ago, when they said he was growing one year in four, that 'the average life span is 70 years - could he live to be 280'," Mrs Freeman said.

University of WA medical genetics professor David Ravine said Mr Freeman's case was extraordinarily rare and he had never come across anything like it in his 22-year career.

"There are so many biological aspects here about what we could learn from these unusual genetic events," he said. "The thing we learn in this field particularly, is to obviously treasure the exceptional cases and do as much as we can for the family."

The West Australian

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