For many people, the idea of eating whatever you want without gaining weight sounds like a dream. But it’s a life long battle for Lizzie Velasquez, a skeletally thin 21-year-old girl from Austin, Texas who is unable to put on weight even though she consumes 5,000 to 8,000 calories a day, the Daily Telegraph (UK) reports.
In fact, Lizzie Velasquez must eat every 15 minutes to stay healthy. Miss Velasquez has a rare condition – there are only three known cases in the world – which prevents her from gaining weight even though she eats up to 60 small meals a day.
Despite consuming between 5,000 and 8,000 calories daily, the communications student, has never tipped over 4st 3lbs. “I weigh myself regularly and if I gain even one pound I get really excited,” said 5ft 2 ins Miss Velasquez, who wears size triple zero clothes. “I eat every 15-20 minutes to keep my energy levels up.”
“I eat small portions of crisps, 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,” she added.
She was born four weeks prematurely weighing just 2lb 10oz. 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 Miss Velasquez’s mother Rita, 45, a church secretary.
‘They told us she would never be able to walk, talk or have a normal life,’ said Rita who has two other children with Lizzie’s father Lupe, 44. Lizzie’s siblings Chris, 12, and Marina, 15, are both of average height and weight.
Despite the grim prognosis Lizzie’s brain, bones and internal organs developed normally but she was always very small. At the age of two she was still only 15lbs – the same as the average five-month-old baby.
“I was normal but really, really tiny,” said Lizzie, who underwent numerous tests at the St David’s Medical Centre in Austin with inconclusive results.
Doctors speculated Lizzie might have the genetic disorder De Barsy syndrome but soon ruled it out as it became clear she did not have learning difficulties.
“They kept on trying to figure out what was wrong with her but we treated her like any other child,” said Mrs Velasquez, who charted her daughter’s health in dozens of notebooks.
Born with two brown eyes, when Lizzie was four the right began to cloud and change hue. Doctors then discovered she had gone blind in that eye.
“They still don’t know why it happened but now I have one blue and one brown eye,” Lizzie said.
Lizzie was taken to see genetic experts but they still could not diagnose her. At the age of six, Lizzie’s doctors began encouraging her to eat plenty of fat, carbohydrates and sugar.
“They told me to ‘just go for it’ with anything I wanted at any time,” said Lizzie, who carries food in her handbag and keeps a big stash under her bed in her flat.
In high school Lizzie made friends and gradually came to accept her appearance. “I started to think: ‘Well this is me, like it or lump it,” said Lizzie. “I was always the one at the top of the pyramid during cheerleading,” she added.
Lizzie has a weak immune system and has been in hospital many times after catching numerous illnesses.
At 16 Lizzie almost died when her appendix ruptured and at 19 she had a massive blood transfusion because her blood cells were not multiplying properly and she was critically anaemic.
“I was so weak I couldn’t get out of bed,” she said. “My doctors had no idea how I was still alive. I only had half the normal amount of blood in my body but after my transfusion I felt like a new person, it was great.”
Miss Velasquez’s case has fascinated doctors all over the world and she is part of a genetic study run by Professor Abhimanyu Garg, MD, at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
Professor Garg and his team now believe 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 PRS often have triangular and prematurely aged faces with a pointy nose.
Prof. Garg said: “I am aware of a small number of people that have similar conditions to Lizzie but each case is slightly different. 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,” he added. Lizzie doesn’t take medication but she relies on vitamin supplements and iron to stay healthy.
It’s thought she should be able to conceive naturally without passing the condition to her children. She added: “I do all the things my friends do, shopping, movies and parties.”
“But I hate it when people stare, or make comments. When I meet new people I have to say: ‘Hi, I’m Lizzie and I have this rare syndrome, I am NOT anorexic,'” she added.
Currently there is no cure but her doctors predict if Lizzie keeps eating she has a bright future ahead of her.
She insisted: “I’m happy the way I am and this syndrome has made me the person I am. I want to make a positive difference in people’s lives and show them that you can get through most hardships if you are strong, positive and have a sense of humour.”
According to her website, she has written a book about herself that will be released in September and aims to become a motivational speaker.
“God made me the way I am for a reason and I would never change that,” she writes. “I lead a normal life as much as possible and deal with the bumps in the road as they come along with my head held high and a smile on my face!” [Lizzie Velasquez via Daily Telegraph (UK), CBS News and Daily Mail (UK)]