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'I Can Accept Being Short' : Boy With Dwarfism Stands Tall

January 18, 1987|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer

David Brown has all the concerns of a typical 13-year-old junior high school student--with one exception.

David was born with achondroplasia, the most common form of short-limbed dwarfism. That means his trunk is the normal length but his arms and legs are shorter, his head is slightly larger, his nose is smaller and the bridge of his nose is flattened.

At 4 feet, 1 inch, he is more than a foot shorter than his peers.

"Sometimes it makes you sort of uncomfortable when everyone is taller than you are," acknowledged David, seated next to his mother, Penny, in the living room of their home in Cypress.

With typical teen-age restlessness, the stocky eighth-grader with tousled brown hair moved off the couch and sat on the floor. Absent-mindedly pushing his wire-rimmed glasses into place with one finger, he continued:

"Sometimes I give more thought to it than at other times, but normally, day to day, I don't think about it too much. If I get depressed, it's thinking about what is in the future--if I'm 17 and I go on a date or something like that. I think people won't want to go out with me because I'm short."

Brown smiled at her son, gently reminding him, "You're not the only person your age who feels like that, David."

Wearing a "Tequesta-Vice" T-shirt (a gift from his grandmother, who lives in Tequesta, Fla.), jeans and jogging shoes, David comes across as good-natured, outgoing and extremely bright--he's an A student who takes honors classes at Lexington Junior High.

David, whose parents and 10-year-old sister, Julie, are average in stature, is described by his mother as "very reasonable, very considerate and compassionate."

"What's interesting is these seem to be traits of the achondroplasia dwarf," Brown said. "The only time I ever have any problems with David is on those rare occasions when he acts like a child. He always has been very mature."

Brown recalled that when David was born, his doctors told her and her husband, Richard, that "his head was big, but they didn't tell us what that meant."

Three months later they found out after David's pediatrician referred the Browns to Dr. David Rimoin of Los Angeles, one of the leading experts on short-statured people. Brown recalled: "He took one look at him and said, 'Oh, yes, a classic case of achondroplasia.' "

"My reaction was, I think, I was relieved more than anything else: That we know what it (David's condition) is and that it's not life-threatening," said Brown, turning to David and adding: "Just (knowing) that you're going to be here. . . .

"I was more concerned about what (possible) danger he was in rather than what his life as a dwarf was going to be like."

Rimoin referred the Browns to Little People of America, a nationwide organization for short-statured people and their families. Attending the monthly meetings has made all the difference to her as the parent of a short-statured child, she said.

"One of the biggest helps to me has been talking to mothers of other (short-statured) children," she said, noting that because they have extremely flexible joints in their early years, short-statured babies tend to sit up, crawl and walk--anything that requires motor skills--later than other babies. "It's helpful to realize you're not alone and that people are experiencing the same things," she said.

As a parent, Brown said, her son's short stature is "the kind of thing where you accept it, but you don't always think about it. I think it took my husband longer than me to accept it: This was our first child, his son and our only child for 3 1/2 years, and it's very hard when you realize your child is not going to be able to do everything he wants."

Although some achondroplastic dwarfs develop leg or back problems, which may require corrective surgery, David's only medical problem so far is that he's slightly hard of hearing in one ear.

(A common problem for achondroplastic dwarfs is that the small tubes that run from the middle ear to the back of the throat are narrower than normal; because of that, they do not drain effectively and cause more problems with ear infections, which may lead to hearing loss. Although ventilation tubes can be surgically implanted to allow pressure inside and outside the ear to equalize, Brown said that David is not using a vent tube in order to see how he does without it.)

Although many little people are sensitive to being referred to as dwarfs or midgets--they prefer the terms little people or short-statured--Brown said she has used the term dwarf "from Day One so it wouldn't have a bad connotation" for David.

"We've been going to little people's meetings so long, I've tried to make it (David's dwarfism) always just something that is," she said.

David said he doesn't really mind being short-statured.

"I think being short, I'm sort of used to," he said. "It's not really a problem. I think I could handle being short if I wasn't a dwarf."

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