Thursday, 5 January 2012

Trapped in Body of a 10-year-old at 17

Poppy almost an adult but still likes kids' stuff

She is about to start driving and soon will be able to legally buy alcohol and get married, but Poppy Webb-Jones still looks and thinks like a ten-year-old girl.
Teen interests ... 17-year-old Poppy Webb-Jones loves Hannah Montana and Justin Beiber

SHE is about to start driving and soon will be able to legally buy alcohol and get married, but Poppy Webb-Jones still looks and thinks like a TEN-YEAR-OLD.

Unlike other 17-year-olds, Poppy is more interested in Hannah Montana and Justin Bieber than wearing make-up, experimenting with boys or staying out late.

This is due to a rare condition which means she was born without any hormones, meaning she has never gone through puberty, never had a growth spurt and never thrown a teenage tantrum.

To many parents of teenagers, Poppy must sound like the perfect child, but unbeknown to her or her mother Karen Webb-Meek, her condition posed a deadly risk to her health throughout her whole childhood.

Poppy was born with a condition called panhypopituitarism meaning she lacks most of the hormones essential for life.

Poppy has no growth hormone, meaning her bones stopped growing around the age of 11, and she has no thyroxine, which regulates the metabolism and energy levels.

In addition she has no oestrogen, which controls the onset of puberty and the development of secondary sexual characteristics.

Concerned mum ... Poppy Webb-Jones with her mum, Karen
Concerned mum ... Poppy Webb-Jones with her mum, Karen
Most worryingly, her body does not produce the hormone cortisol, which is vital in regulating the body's reaction to stress.

This meant that, until her diagnosis just over two years ago, Poppy was a risk of falling into a deadly shock reaction if she ever suffered a serious illness or injury.

Karen, 45, from Humberston, Lincs, said: "Amazingly she never had a broken bone or a serious fall, although she did catch the chicken pox when she was little and it progressed to pneumonia.

"We didn't know it at the time, but we nearly lost her then. Her body couldn't handle any kind of infection and she ended up in hospital.
"That always seemed to be the case with Poppy - her whole life she was such a sickly child and she always seemed so weak and lacking in energy.

"I constantly pestered the GP on and off over the years, saying something wasn't quite right with her, but he always said there was nothing wrong and that she was fine.

"I suppose when I started saying that she couldn't get up the lanes at the swimming pool that he just thought I was some kind of pushy parent."

Poppy continued to struggle with any kind of physical exertion throughout primary school, but it wasn't until she started secondary school that other cracks in her development began to show.

Ready to drive ... but baby-faced Poppy has the body of a 10-year-oldReady to drive ... but baby-faced Poppy has the body of a 10-year-old

She fell behind in her studies, requiring special needs tutoring, and while her peers were fond of the sweet and quiet Poppy, Karen noticed her friendship circle was starting to fall away.

Businesswoman Karen, who is also mum to Katie, 21, and Harvey, 15, said: "Her little group of friends didn't come round as often as they used to anymore.

"While they were out chasing boys, Poppy wanted to stay in and play with her Hannah Montana things. She was very isolated.

"When she was 11 and went to secondary school, l was expecting her to start growing into a little adult and for puberty to start kicking in.

"I know it's not unusual for children to start puberty a little later than others, but by the time she was 13 I noticed she was distinctly different from her peer group.

"They were all wearing make-up and jewellery and growing breasts.

"One day, when she was about 15, I looked at my friend's daughter, who was in the same year as Poppy at school, and it struck me just how different they were."

Karen, having seen her eldest daughter blossom into a young woman, was now suddenly aware that something was amiss with Poppy.

After several more visits to her GP, and a fierce battle to be referred to Sheffield Children's Hospital, Poppy was admitted for a barrage of tests.

Then, a few days later, Karen and her daughter were told to go immediately to the hospital to see the consultant endocrinologist.
Baby face ... Poppy, middle, is pictured in a family snap with younger brother Harvey and sister Kate
Baby face ... Poppy, middle, is pictured in a family snap with younger brother Harvey and sister Kate

There they broke the devastating news; that Poppy would never undergo puberty without urgent treatment, that her life was at risk and that she would never have a child of her own.

Karen said: "Because she had no oestrogen, her ovaries were underdeveloped and unlikely to produce healthy eggs, even with hormone treatment.

"That really hit her hard and we both had a cry over it. It was a very emotional moment, but there is a chance she may be able to have a donor baby in the future."

The doctor also explained how Poppy's lack of cortisol had posed a risk to her health her entire life that could have proved deadly at any time.

Something as simple as a fall off a climbing frame would have meant Poppy's body going into an instant state of medical shock leading to organ failure.

As a result, Poppy now carries a cortisol injection pen with her at all times and her teachers at school have been informed of her condition.

School is one place where her delayed development posed the biggest problem - emotionally, Poppy was still very much a child and soon she would be expected to take her GCSEs and plan her future as a young adult.

After a consultation with the education authority, it was agreed that Poppy could drop back two years, putting her in the same class as her younger brother, Harvey.

Since then, she has thrived, reacting well to her hormone medication and, while puberty is still yet to kick in, her studies have improved, her friendships have blossomed and she is full of energy for the first time ever.

Karen said: "Two and a half years after her diagnosis, she is a completely different child. She still likes Hannah Montana and all that sort of thing, but she is so much happier than she used to be.

"She is still very small and she still has a baby face so when she starts taking her driving lessons in a few weeks I'm sure there will be some double takes as she looks like a child behind the wheel.

"I know she is eager for puberty to start but she has had a big setback and I just tell her that she has to be patient - she will get there eventually."

Poppy said: "Before I was diagnosed, I was treated a bit like a pet by my friends at school. They all liked me, but they treated me like a baby and would pat me on the head.

"It was very isolating, all they wanted to talk about was drinking and boys. Plus I never had the energy to do anything.

"Now I'm so much happier - I have a new group of friends whose interests are more like mine and who think the way I do.

"Now, I am about to start driving and my brother thinks it's not fair because we are in the same year at school but he is younger than me. All my friends have been asking if I can give them lifts once I get my licence.

"With everything that is going on, I just want puberty to kick in soon as I just want to be the same as everyone else."

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