LONDON, Feb. 1, 2010
Zara Hartshorn has been robbed of her childhood. Her mom took her out of school because the bullying was so bad. A bus driver laughed in her face recently when she tried to pay the child's fare. Strangers stare and point in the street. Kids call her "grandma," "monkey" and "baggy face."
Zara is 13 but has a rare genetic condition that makes her look much, much older than her years. She has the face of a grown woman, gaunt and wrinkled. But she's a frightened teen inside.
"It feels like people are looking down their noses at me and staring," she said at her home in northern England. "You know when you get that feeling you're being watched? I feel that everywhere I go."
Zara's mother, Tracey Pollard, feels her pain: She, too, was born with lipodystrophy.
Pollard, 41, noticed the tell-tale signs in Zara's face at birth. "I was grieving for a child that's got to go through the same things in life that I've had to go through," she said. "I was angry at myself for actually having Zara."
Lipodystrophy is a genetic disease. It is hereditary. It robs the body of the ability to produce fat cells beneath the skin.
"Fatty tissue doesn't grow right," Dr. Donald Kotler of St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York City said. "Normal fatty tissues shrink, making people look sort of old and wrinkled and abnormal."