At first glance, one would assume Lizzie Velasquez is anorexic. After all, the 21-year-old Austin, Texas woman is all skin and bones, tipping the scales at just 56 pounds. But it turns out Lizzie has a rare disorder that prevents her from gaining weight, and she must eat every 15 minutes to keep herself healthy.
According to a report in London's Telegraph, Lizzie may have a form of Neonatal Progeroid Syndrome (NPS) which causes accelerated ageing, fat loss from the face and body, and tissue degeneration. People with NPS often have triangular and prematurely aged faces with a pointy nose.
But it took years to come up with that diagnosis. Doctors have been stumped over what was causing Lizzie's maladies. She is now part of a genetic study run by Professor Abhimanyu Garg, MD, at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, and Garg finally decided it was NPS.
"I am aware of a small number of people that have similar conditions to Lizzie but each case is slightly different," Garg said.
In Lizzie's case, she has to eat up to 60 small meals a day to keep her energy level up. But despite eating between 5,000 and 8,000 calories a day, she barely gains any weight.
"I weigh myself regularly and if I gain even one pound I get really excited," Lizzie said. "I eat small portions of chips, sweets, chocolate, pizza, chicken, cake, doughnuts, ice cream, noodles and Pop Tarts all day long, so I get pretty upset when people accuse me of being anorexic."
Lizzie weighed just 2 pounds, 10 ounces when she was born four weeks prematurely. Doctors found there was minimal amniotic fluid protecting her in the womb.
"They told us they had no idea how she could have survived," said Lizzie's mother, Rita.
While Lizzie has indeed survived, Garg said her future is uncertain. "We cannot predict what will happen to Lizzie in the future as the medical community are yet to document older people with NPS.
"However Lizzie is lucky to have healthy teeth, organs and bones so the outlook is good. We will continue to study her case and learn from her."
Lizzie has written a book about her life. It is due to be released in September.