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    Posted October 5, 2011 by
    Bulacan, Philippines
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Boot camp: Headline writing & story building

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    The girl who looks old



    "The girl who looks old"

    "Life of a ninety-eight year old kid"

    "Inspiring life of an elderly looking girl "


    Being a child is the most special part of our lives - we innocently play and have fun not thinking of tomorrow. But not Rochelle Pondare - she is trying to thread her broken family amidst her rare condition called progeria. "When I was 5 years old I became bald and I begin to look old.” Pondare said. “My mother told me that I have a sickness called progeria. The doctors said that I'm aging too fast and my life here on earth is quick. That time I can't understand why I look differently from other girls who have healthy skin and long hair. The next thing I remember, my father was rude to me and as a kid. I hated him. Mom left him and we went hiding but my brother was left in his custody. When I was 12 I learned that kids like me have  a life span of 13 to 15 years old. I decided to forgive him. I'm praying that before I leave, we'll eat in one table as a family. On my 14th birthday, I was reunited with my brother whom I haven't seen for almost seven years but I'm sad father is not there. One month after, I received a text message from my brother... Father is home..."


    Her mother asked her why she wanted to see her father. Her father was beating her when she was diagnosed with progeria.” When my husband is drunk, she told me that our eldest daughter is a curse in our family,” Rossana Pondare recalled, “and every time, I’m away, he’s beating Rochelle” she added.


    Because of Rochelle’s rare sickness, she was featured many times in television. Her life story was even dramatized in a primetime anthology show. But the portrayal of their life story is not true that causes Rochelle’s family begin to shatter. Her mom was blamed by their relatives. Her father became  a drunkard.


    When Rochelle turned eight, her mom took her and her three sisters away and they went into hiding away from their father and relatives. Her brother was left in the custody of his father. That was the last time Rochelle had seen his brother and father.


    As the eldest daughter, Rochelle is tasked to help her mother find a living to augment their daily needs. At age 8, Rochelle is to be found around the streets and markets of Bulacan selling ornaments made of recycled papers or RTW (Ready to Wear) used clothes on weekends.


    “She was my lucky charm,” her mother recalled, “We easily sell our products every time Rochelle is with me.”


    “Because people pity me, they buy our products,” Rochelle concluded.

    On weekdays, Rochelle is busy studying. She wanted to be a role model to her three young sisters.


    When she was in third grade, she met Ricardo. Ricardo liked her. And when she and Ricardo went to fifth grade, Ricardo courted her but Rochelle didn’t respond to Ricardo’s feelings.


    Last July 14, 2011, Rochelle answered Ricardo’s feelings but she broke up the next day because their relationship spread throughout the campus. Mean girls started to discriminate her.


    But Ricardo didn’t stop courting Rochelle. “She was beautiful. She has a beautiful attitude and I get attracted to her. Not all girls are like her.”


    On September 14, 2011, Rochelle said "yes" to Ricardo but their relationship is to become a secret in their school.


    I asked Rochelle if she already told Ricardo about her condition – progeria. She nodded.

    Rochelle has been my friend for almost 3 years now. And ever since, she always told me that she wanted to see her brother and father because her time is running. She is worried that she would die without seeing them.


    Before her 14th birthday, her mom told me that Rochelle is acting differently. “She tries to make everyone happy. She’s leaving us a good memory,” Rossana told me in teary eyes.


    Before her birthday on May 30, 2011, her mother, Rosanna made a way to find Rochelle’s brother and reconcile with their father’s side relatives.


    The reunion with Rochelle’s brother and relatives is heart wrenching and I can see how happy Rochelle was that day.


    Rochelle’s birthday was almost complete except her dad. “Before I blow the candle, I ask God that soon, I will see my father. I have only one year left and I want to spend it with him, my brother and with my 3 sisters.”


    Almost a month later after her birthday, a text message from her brother had surprised her. “Father is home… When I saw him, we’re speechless… we cried and embraced each other… I say sorry to him.”


    Alonso Pondare, the father of Rochelle was home because he had recently lost his right hand when it was hacked off by a machete during an argument with an acquaintance. “I lost my right hand but this paved away of reuniting with my eldest daughter Rochelle and my family. I’m not a good father to them and to Rochelle. I’ll make up!”.


    Rochelle’s dreams for her family are almost complete now. She’s looking forward that her parents will forgive each other and soon there will be a time where they would finallly be able eat together in one table asone family.


    Her condition with rrogeria made her thread together her broken family. Rochelle believes that she has one more year to live because her friend Maureen, who has progeria ,also died when she was 15 years old.


    According to Institute of Human Genetics here in the Philippines, Rochelle’s life can be prolonged by taking care of her health. Rochelle will be undergoing to series of medical examinations so that the institute can monitor what her illnesses.


    The Progeria Research Foundation in Boston, MA is also extending medical assistance to Rochelle. Audrey Gordon, executive-director of the foundation informed me that they can give medicines to Rochelle that can possibly extend her life. The Progeria Research Foundation has been looking for Rochelle for years now since  they lost communication with Rochelle’s family.


    Progeria is a rare genetic abnormality that causes fast aging. Kids who are affected with progeria has average life span of 13 – 15 years old. Age metabolism of affected kid is 7-8 times faster than normal aging.(A 10 year-old kid with progeria may look like 70 year-old.)


    According to Progeria Research Foundation, there are 80 kids around the world who has progeria. There are 2 cases in the Philippines.

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