At first glance, Nicky Freeman looks like an ordinary 10-year-old boy, but his small stature belies his true age. Mr Freeman is 40 years old. He’s stuck in a body that grows one year every four years. He celebrated his 40th birthday in December, graduating in size 10.
His bones were the size of a 10-year-old. At 16, his bone structure was comparable to that of a 4-year-old. Mr Freeman has overcome the possibility of reaching middle age. He was born in Esperance and was a month overdue with hydrocephalus – hydrocephalus and a large head.
In the days after his birth, doctors told Kalyn Freeman that her son would not survive. To this day, Ms Freeman can’t help but wonder if his multiple disabilities were caused by the antihistamines she took during her pregnancy due to allergies. “Five women in Esperance had spontaneous abortions and another had a severely disabled child,” she said.
Mr Freeman didn’t walk until he was almost two years old and after he didn’t look for toys to play with, doctors realised he was blind. His pituitary gland was also found to be very slow. As a toddler, Mr Freeman went several days without food or drink in response to a swollen brain.
The swelling affected his hearing and he couldn’t stand the loud noise. Doctors tried to drain the fluid from his head by inserting a shunt tube into the lining of his brain. The procedure proved futile after they discovered his brain was absorbing fluid.
Mrs Freeman said the operation was so traumatic for her son that for almost six months he stopped walking, eating and drinking. He never spoke again. Doctors again warned Mrs Freeman that her son’s death was imminent. Despite life’s hardships, Mrs Freeman said her eldest son had a fulfilling life.
“He’s a fighter, he’s meant to be here,” she said. “He loves to ride horses, up to 3 times a week during the season. He loves to travel, especially long car trips.” She believes Mr Freeman’s “true age” will never be discovered because he has no language.
“Nicky is very efficient with body language,” she said. “If he doesn’t want to eat or do something, you certainly don’t doubt that fact. He may be young, but he’s 40 years old and a man.”
Mrs Freeman, who has three other healthy children, said she often wondered if he would outlive the average life expectancy. “My friend Annie asked me a few years ago, when they said he was gaining a year every four years, ‘The average life expectancy is 70 – can he live to be 280?'” Mrs Freeman said.
David Ravine, a professor of medical genetics at the University of Western Australia, said Mr Freeman’s case was extremely rare and he had never encountered anything like it in his 22-year career.
“We can learn a lot about biology from these unusual genetic events,” he said. “What we’ve learned particularly in this area is obviously to cherish special circumstances and do as much as possible for the family.”