PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Only 162 kids around the world are identified as having progeria, also known as the rapid aging disease.
It causes people to look much older than they are.
One of those children lives in the Pittsburgh area.
His name is Cam Howard.
KDKA’s Kristine Sorensen says when she met him and found out his favorite Steeler is, you guessed it, Cam Heyward, she reached out to the Steelers to find a way for them to meet.
She was there when the two “Cam’s” met, and it was magical.
“Cam, how are you doing?” Steeler Cam Heyward asked, kneeling to greet 13-year-old Cam Howard who is smaller than four feet tall. “What’s up buddy? You know what my name is?”
The size difference seemed inconsequential as they met face to face, a boy with a rare genetic disorder meeting his favorite football player with almost exactly the same name.
“It was pretty cool having the same name as me,” Howard said. “He’s like seven feet tall. He’s pretty tall.”
Player after player greeted Cam with fist bumps, gloves, and autographs to fill his football.
Cam is a big Steeler fan and knows each player by name.
He rattled off each player in the team photo.
Spending time with Cam on his tour of the Steeler facility on the South Side, you realize he’s like other seventh-graders intellectually.
He just looks different because he has progeria, a defect in his DNA that causes his body to age fast.
“I’m 13 now, and my body is like 70 years old,” he explained.
Cam Howard goes to Hampton Middle School and has lots of friends.
“So the first couple days they would stare, it’s kind of annoying, but it wasn’t that bad,” he said. “Once they got to know my personality and I would open up, they would become friends.”
Kristine: “What’s your favorite subject in school?”
Cam: “In school? Well, I’m not a big fan of school, but I don’t think anyone is honestly.”
Cam does like the Pittsburgh Penguins, playing sports and video games and throwing around the football with his family. He’s full of energy and has such a positive outlook on life.
“Just because I have this disease isn’t going to like make my life horrible,” Howard said. “I’m actually almost like lucky. You know, I have the same personality of what I want to be,” Cam says.
Cam’s Dad, Jason, tries to treat him like any other 13-year-old boy.
“It’s tough, I think you try to give (him) a lot of freedom, like for instance, he wants to play hockey, but one of his hip dislocations was playing hockey,” he explained.
Dislocated joints are common with progeria.
Cam’s been hospitalized for dislocating his shoulder and hip multiple times.
Kristine: “Does that hurt a lot?”
Cam: “Yeah. It hurts. I can pop my shoulder back in.”
Cam’s physical and mental toughness could rival these Steeler players.
While he takes medicine to try to slow the aging process, the average lifespan for someone with progeria is 14.
“Knowing that times a little bit shorter, there’s a lot of things we’ve done sooner than we would have, or maybe we’ve done things we wouldn’t have ever done, just because time’s shorter,” Cam’s dad said.
Steeler Coach Mike Tomlin greets Cam after practice saying with a big grin.
“That’s the only reason you like Cam Heyward, because your name is Cam, right?” Tomlin joked.
Cam might be small, but when it comes to the Steelers, he can talk a big game.
“They just always have had a decent, OK team,” he said. “Not always like the Browns, trash.”
Cam’s family moved to Pittsburgh in part because of the wonderful care they get at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh where he was diagnosed with progeria at 6 months old.