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BOY'S LOVE-LIFE LESSON WILL OUTLAST DEATH AT 17.

Byline: Yvette Cabrera Daily News Staff Writer

Anna and James Sim planned to celebrate their son Denny's 18th birthday Saturday, but instead they will stand over his grave and say goodbye.

Denny Sim - their 4-foot, 39-pound son who courageously battled the extremely rare aging disease called progeria - died March 17, just 13 days short of his milestone 18th birthday and a few months short of fulfilling his dream of finishing high school.

To all who knew him, Denny was unforgettable. His whole life exceeded all expectations. He insisted on living life to the fullest despite his terrible pain and his knowledge that the average life expectancy for progeria victims is just 13.

``He did his best no matter what he did,'' his father said through a Korean translator Thursday. ``He did his best playing tennis. He did his best in friendship.''

When his tennis teammates at Monroe High School in North Hills ran laps, Denny ran, too.

Denny went to homecoming, got his driver's license and joined the mock trial team. He was the friend who gave up his McDonald's lunch for a hungry pal. He was a volunteer at the Veterans Administration Hospital.

``If he would have lived longer, he would have lived for others, because he always did think of others rather than himself,'' said his father in an interview at the family's Granada Hills condominium, where a giant photo of his smiling eldest son sits in the living room surrounded by Denny's sports trophies.

Even in death, Denny inspired those whose lives he touched. Players on Monroe's tennis team got Denny's initials embroidered on the sleeves of their uniforms after he died. This week they clinched an upset victory over one of the toughest rivals in their league.

``It always feels like we have Denny with us,'' said Matthew Friedrich, 17, co-captain of the tennis team. ``His energy and inspiration is always with me. He always used to try so hard.''

Progeria, a genetic disease, is so rare that there are only 15 such cases in the United States and 27 worldwide, according to Dr. W. Ted Brown, the nation's leading progeria researcher and chairman of the Department of Human Genetics at the New York State Institute for Basic Research on Staten Island.

The disease gives patients an aged look, which is why Denny said he was trapped in the body of an 88-year-old.

Patients have weaker bones and high blood pressure, and they eventually develop heart disease that results in heart attacks and strokes, said Brown.

The progeria was apparent even in a photograph of Denny as a toddler, smiling happily in a watermelon patch in South Korea, where he was born. He died of a heart attack at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.

Denny stood out, but not because of his illness, said his former English teacher, Marti Sutherland, who thought so highly of him that she transferred him to Monroe's magnet program for the highly gifted.

``The illness is what people noticed first, but that became secondary to the character and personality that this child displayed,'' said Sutherland.

He was a student who made the most of every moment and by persevering set an example for other students, said Sutherland.

``There was something in that child's heart that got him out of bed every day and put a smile on his face that most teen-agers just don't have.''

Denny's death came just months before he could have accomplished his greatest dream: graduating from Monroe High School and attending UCLA. He had already been accepted to the University of California, Irvine.

In his college-application essay, Denny wrote:

``Progeria may shorten my life span and bring other illnesses. However, one thing I refuse to let it do is take away my willingness to live life to the fullest by being active in school, sports and our community.''

Of all his accomplishments, perhaps his greatest was simply being a friend - offering a shoulder to lean on, an ear to listen.

``I can honestly say he's the one person I'll never forget,'' said senior Anna Nelson, 18. ``He always felt like he was on top of the world. He wouldn't let anything get to him.''

Denny, who underwent open-heart surgery in 1997, never used his illness as an excuse, said his U.S. history teacher, Mark Elinson.

``He never missed an assignment, never missed a test, never made an excuse,'' said Elinson. ``It's so easy for us to make excuses all the time, all of us, and the things that we're dealing with are nothing (in comparison).''

It was only in his last months, after he contracted pneumonia, that doctors recommended Denny slow down. He fainted twice at school. Even then, after being rushed to the hospital one day, he showed up the next to take an economics test, said Friedrich.

News of his death left teachers and students in tears.

``We're all very sad about it. I can't begin to tell you,'' said Elinson. ``He's the kind of person you'll never forget. I've been teaching 30 years now, and I don't think I've ever come across a student like him.''

Denny's sister Jane Sim sat by his side the night before his death. He had suffered a heart attack and could not speak. Tears finally rolled out of his eyes.

``I kept telling him over and over that we were never going to forget him,'' said Jane Sim, 23. ``I felt very helpless because there was nothing the doctors could so, nothing we could do, but just sit and wait until he passed away.''

Denny's family donated his organs for research because they know that's what he would have wanted, said Jane Sim. Friends told the family to start putting away Denny's belongings to lessen the pain, but his sister said his room at home will be kept intact.

``We think the opposite,'' said Jane Sim. ``We want to put more photos up because we want to remember him and keep his memory alive.''

THE FUNERAL

Denny's funeral will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills. Monroe's tennis team is collecting contributions for a plaque to rename the school's tennis courts in his honor. Donations can be sent to Monroe High School, 9229 Haskell Ave., North Hills, CA 91343.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, box

PHOTO (1 -- color) Denny Sim, 17, afflicted by a rare disease that rapidly ages a child's body before he can grow up, smiled until his fatal heart attack.

Daily News

(2 -- 3) Anna Sim, at left, holds the little shoes her son Denny wore as a junior varsity tennis player, along with the matching pair he gave her.

Charlotte Schmid-Maybach/Special to the Daily News

Above, the 4-feet-tall Denny walks to lunch surrounded by friends at Monroe High, where students and teachers wept at news of his death.

Box: The funeral (see text)
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Obituary
Date:Mar 26, 1999
Words:1143
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