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The Strange Case of the Girl Who Didn’t Age

The human body is a wellspring of strange mysteries we don’t yet understand, one of the last frontiers, and one of these began on January 8...

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The human body is a wellspring of strange mysteries we don’t yet understand, one of the last frontiers, and one of these began on January 8, 1993, when proud parents Howard and Melanie Greenberg brought their new daughter, Brooke, into the world at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. It was a tense birth, as little Brooke was born one month premature, and furthermore she came into the world with a condition known as “anterior hip dislocation,” in which the legs are swiveled up towards the shoulders, but the strong little baby pulled through, and her legs would be surgically fixed without incident. Other than these issues, Brooke Greenburg seemed to be a completely healthy and normal infant, and she joined her happy family where two older sisters waited for her as well. At first Brooke seemed totally fine, despite her tumultuous beginnings, but things would start to unravel and hint at something very wrong as time went on. Here we begin an odyssey of a very special young lady, who perhaps holds the key to eternal life.

It began unfortunately, with a series of dire health issues that seemed to come from nowhere, for no apparent reasons, yet cease just as mysteriously. She would develop seven perforated stomach ulcers that went away on their own, suffer seizures that she fully recovered from, and a serious stroke that oddly left her brain undamaged. At the age of 4, Brooke fell into a strange state of lethargy during which she reportedly slept nearly constantly for 14 days straight. This would be diagnosed as likely a brain tumor, and her parents prepared for the worst, yet one day the child woke up from her continuous slumber seemingly completely healthy and fine, and a checkup showed no tumor at all. It almost seemed like Brooke was a little walking miracle to get through all of this unscathed, and while that was already remarkable enough, things got very odd indeed when at around the age of 4 years old she just simply stopped growing.

Brooke Greenberg

As her sisters and the friends around her grew up, Brooke not only didn’t grow, but didn’t seem to age at all, totally frozen in time at 4 years of age, with only her hair and fingernails growing. It wasn’t even just her body that didn’t age, but her mental development as well, in fact her mental capacity had always seemed to be lower than average, but it had totally paused at a toddler-like state,  and after all of this her concerned parents decided to have her checked out. It was immediately apparent to doctors that this was not normal, but when DNA tests were carried out there could be found no cause for why she had just become frozen in time, and no abnormality that could be related to an aging disorder or any other issue for that matter. In fact, all of her genes and chromosomes were discovered to be completely normal. It was made all the stranger by the fact that her sisters, of which she had three by that point, were all completely normal. Indeed, the family in general had no history of abnormal development, and there was no known known genetic syndrome or chromosomal abnormality that could explain why Brooke simply would not age past 4 years old, forcing them to simply label her condition “Syndrome X,” possibly caused by some unknown metabolic process, although they didn’t know.

Brooke would continue on with life over the years, still not aging and still with no answers as to why. At the age of 16 she still had her baby teeth and had the mental capacity of a 2-year-old, and was pushed around in a stroller, seemingly an eternal child. Throughout all of this she never was able to actually talk, but obviously recognized the world around her and understood it, often smiling or using gestures to communicate, and she showed affection toward her family. Over the years the parents went to numerous doctors and nutritionists from some of the most prestigious medical institutions in the U.S., trying all manner of medications and growth hormones but nothing at all seemed to help and no one had the slightest idea why this was happening. The Greenberg’s eventually found themselves talking to a Dr. Richard Walker, an endocrine physiologist at the University of South Florida College of Medicine, who thought he might have some idea of what was going on. According to Walker, Brooke’s body was in a state of perpetual flux, with all of her organs and parts not working on the same page, and he has said of this:

There’ve been very minimal changes in Brooke’s brain. Various parts of her body, rather than all being at the same stage, seem to be disconnected. Different parts of her body are developing at different rates, as if they were not a unit but parts of separate organisms. We think that Brooke’s condition presents us with a unique opportunity to understand the process of aging.

Brooke with her younger sister. She is 20 years old in this photograph.

Brooke would fight on, although her condition left her with myriad health problems throughout her life, and she had to be fed through a tube and cared for 24-hours-a day. Despite all of this, she seemed like mostly a happy girl, enjoying the time she had with her family, although her mental age and physical size did not change even as she reached 20 years of age. Tragically, Brooke Greenberg would develop a respiratory condition and pass away on October 24, 2013. At the time of her death she was exactly the same size and mental age she had been since the start of her strange odyssey, and her plight just as bereft of any solid answers.

In the meantime, it has been found that there are just around a dozen other apparent cases of “Syndrome X” out there, which has since been renamed to “neotenic complex syndrome,” but it is still just as mysterious as it ever has been. Scientists hope that by studying these individuals there might be some breakthrough in the study of human aging and how to extend youth, which could lead to a cure for all manner of age-related conditions and significantly improve human life into our older years. If there is a secret to be had here it has not at the moment been uncovered, but cases like little Brooke Greenberg show us that as we have long sought prolonged youth and tried to create it, some people have actually managed it in their own strange way, further underscoring just how mysterious the human body actually is.

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