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The real life PETER pan; At 21-years-old and just 35 inches tall, Nick Smith is one of the smallest men in the world... the baby of the family.

Byline: SUNDAY EXTRAORDINARY REAL LIFE BY GAIL SHORTLAND

Dressed in a Sponge Bob Square Pants sweatshirt, Nick Smith charms everyone he meets with his childish voice and giggle. He's the size of a toddler as he sits on his mum's lap, swinging his tiny feet. But Nick isn't a kid, he's 21-years-old.

He lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and was born with a rare form of dwarfism. He's one of only 100 people in the world with a genetic condition called Osteodysplastic Primordial Dwarfism (MOPD) Type ll. It means Nick has always had a smaller body size, even when he was a foetus in the womb, making him one of the world's smallest men.

Nick's mum Shelly, 48, instinctively knew there was something different about her pregnancy when she was carrying her second son. An early scan confirmed he was small, but it didn't explain why. And when he was born, Nick weighed just 2lb 4oz and was only 12 inches long. But, despite being tiny, Shelly could tell her son was strong. 'It was amazing, he was so small but he was so healthy and you could tell he was a fighter,' she says.

At first doctors were baffled by his condition and they continued to speculate throughout his childhood. He stayed perfectly in proportion but remained small, with a high-pitched voice. Finally, when Nick was eight-years-old, he was diagnosed with primordial dwarfism.

Shelly researched all she could about the condition and connected with other parents around the world, so she didn't feel isolated. With all the information she discovered, Shelly set about trying to give Nick the best life possible.

Today, Nick is just 35 inches tall and he weighs two stone, a similar height and weight to a three year old. At home with his brothers Travis, 24, and Levi, 18, his size becomes more obvious. His siblings tower about him at 6ft 5ins.

Levi says Nick's height hasn't stopped him looking up to his older brother, and they have great fun together. Travis says, 'We always joke with Nick that Levi and I stole all the tall genes so that's why he's shorter. It's definitely ironic, because the whole family's tall.' Apart from his vertical challenges, Nick also has learning difficulties and sees the world like a child. His bedroom is devoted to Spiderman and he adores Sponge Bob. 'For me it's like a having a child who never really grew up, and that's a wonderful thing. What mother wouldn't enjoy that?' Shelly admits. But Nick's condition doesn't make his life easy.

Primordial dwarves are susceptible to lots of health problems and often they're conditions usually associated with older people, meaning Nick's life expectancy is short. He's undergone many surgeries in his life, suffered kidney and spine problems, and deals with blood pressure and cholesterol issues.

And yet he is beating the odds. In October 2013, Nick's doctors discovered he had a life-threatening aneurism, a condition common with primordial dwarves, which is often the reason they don't survive to adulthood.

It meant an artery that feeds blood into his brain had a bulge that could burst, and be fatal, at any moment. The aneurism was a ticking time bomb in his head and doctors decided Nick would need surgery. With his life already shortened, it was important to give him every opportunity to stay healthy.

Nick underwent surgery at Stanford University, California. The procedure, called endovascular coiling, involved platinum being inserted inside the aneurism. It went in through his groin and followed the blood vessels into his brain, so there was no need to cut into his skull. The surgery was made even more complicated with Nick's size.

But, as always, his strength shone through and the four hour surgery was a success. Three days later, he was back at home playing computer games and basketball with his brothers. And Shelly says despite all the problems, her son is unique and amazing.

'He believes he's the same as everyone else and has a childlike innocence that makes him playful and fun. He's always break dancing and making people laugh,' she says. 'Even though he's small, his muscles are strong because he's 21, so he loves impressing the ladies with one-handed press ups.' Nick is protected by his devoted family, and is always happy. He might be small in size but the real life Peter Pan has a giant heart and he's teaching the world to smile. |

CAPTION(S):

Nick's tiny trainers match his brother's

Nick's brothers tower above him at 6ft 5in, with his Mum, Shelly, and meeting his idol, Sponge Bob.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Mar 9, 2014
Words:765
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