A Sycamore man with a very rare disorder and who has become an inspiration to those who know him has earned a college degree from DeVry University at the age of 63.
Wayne Harrell cannot move his body at all without someone moving him. He only has full use of his hands. The first signs of his disorder, fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), began to develop at about age nine or 10 when he broke his left elbow after falling out of a tree while playing. Although his arm healed, after the cast came off, it was frozen in the shape that it was in the cast. During this time, doctors didn’t know the exact cause or name of his condition, says Harrell’s mother, Galia Harrell, 84, who helps take care of him. She said they didn’t get a name until he was in ninth grade. She mentioned that at this age, Harrell’s jaw locked up, which is a common occurrence with FOP.
According to the International FOP Association website, FOP is one of the rarest, most disabling genetic conditions known to medicine. It causes bone to form in muscles, tendons, ligaments and other connective tissues. Bridges of extra bone develop across joints, progressively restricting movement and forming a second skeleton that imprisons the body in bone. There are no other known examples in medicine of one normal organ system turning into another.
Here are a few facts about FOP from the website:
- Genetic disease affecting 1 in 2 million people
- No ethnic, racial or gender patterns
- 700 confirmed cases across the globe
- 185 known cases in the United States
- Characteristic malformations of the great toe
- Flare-ups occur spontaneously or following bodily trauma such as childhood immunizations, falls while playing, viral illnesses
- Misdiagnosed in a majority of cases as cancer
- Surgery makes the condition worse