Little people: They are only short in stature

By Chelsie Gastright, Organizations Editor

January 23, 2013

Brittany Bradfute has big dreams. As a current senior at High Point University, her life is about to change. Brittany will be graduating in May, and although her major is in instrumental music with a concentration on bassoon, her plan is to obtain a masters degree in Library and Informational Science from Indiana University.

As a budding librarian, Brittany spends her time working at the HPU library several nights a week, but can sometimes run into minor problems while working there. It is not uncommon for her to have trouble reaching the higher bookshelves.

This can sometimes cause frustration, but as a person dealing with dwarfism, Brittany finds a way to make it work.


Understanding Dwarfism

The Little People of America website defines dwarfism as a medical or genetic condition that usually results in an adult height of 4 feet 10 inches or shorter, among both men and women. There are currently over 200 different diagnosed forms of dwarfism, and the three of the more common forms include achondroplasia, diastrophic dysplasia and hypochondroplasia.

With a height of 4 feet 9 inches, Brittany is on the taller end of the little person, or LP, spectrum and has a more commonly diagnosed form of dwarfism called hypochondroplasia.

The Genetic Home Reference defines hypochondroplasia as a form of “short-limbed” dwarfism and it affects the conversion of cartilage of bone, especially in the long bones such as arms or legs. Brittany and others who are affected by this form of dwarfism usually have short arms and legs, limited motion in the elbows, larger heads and bowed legs.

While most would find it hard to joke about their current situation, Brittany associates fondly with an extinct reptile.

“One of my favorite animals is the T-Rex. I can relate… you know, big head, little arms?” laughs Brittany.

While extensive research has not been done to fully understand how many LP’s are suffering from hypochondroplasia, it is assumed that it is equally as common as achondroplasia and occurs in roughly 1 in 15,000 to 40,000 newborns.

The cause of hypochondroplasia is still not entirely figured out, but according to the Genetics Home Reference, it is believed that 70 percent of cases are caused by a mutation in the FGFR3 gene that is responsible for producing a protein that aids in bone maintenance.

If there is no mutation but the individual still has hypochondroplasia, researchers are unsure as to what causes this particular form of dwarfism.


Getting the Diagnosis

When Brittany was born, the doctors noted that she had shorter arms and legs than most newborns, but they decided not to follow up with it. All they did was note the discovery on her chart, went about their way, and for a while it seemed that there was no problem.

At the age of 2 years old, Brittany broke her leg. When she and her family went to see the doctor, they noticed something else that, in hindsight, showed she had dwarfism. The doctors noticed that she was possibly bow legged, but they said it was not severe enough for them to follow up.

For the next few years, Brittany was roughly the same height as her peers. Every young child is smaller and shorter, and at 5 years old this is especially true. Things started to change for her in kindergarten.

“Once I started kindergarten, we realized I was on the short side of everybody. And with my sister being 10 years older than I am, we couldn’t really compare the two of us to see why I was short,” said Brittany.

It was not until Brittany turned 8 years old that her doctors in Cape Girardeau, Mo., recommended they see two specialists, both almost 3 hours away.

“Since I started seeing brand new doctors when I moved to our town, they said I should probably go see some specialists since on the growth chart I was not reaching anywhere close to an acceptable height,” said Brittany, emphasizing the acceptable. “I was in about the 20th to 30th percentile in height and the 80th to 90th percentile for weight.”

While at the specialist’s office, they ran a test called the GNRH to identify a possible mutation in her genetics to figure out exactly what gene was being affected. After a long day they finally had their answer.

“When we found out I had hypochondroplasia, I didn’t really react much, other than knowing that my mom and dad were happy that we had a diagnosis,” Brittany recalled. “My dad was happy to know what was going on with me, but at the same time my mom was a little depressed that something was wrong with me.”

It turned out that Brittany’s hypochondroplasia was diagnosed through the FGFR3 gene mutation on the fourth chromosome at position 16.3.


Living Life to the FullestBrittanyBradfute

Since finding out about her dwarfism, Brittany has been living like she is average height, and nothing has stopped her from achieving what she wants to do.

In middle school, she was assigned to play the bassoon, even though at the time she was eight inches shorter than the instrument and almost fell over while playing her first time. When she got to college, Brittany joined the HPU Swim Club and swam with the team her freshmen year. She has never let her height get in the way.

However it has not always been extremely easy being an LP. There are everyday struggles and negative connotations that come with being someone of shorter stature.

“Most products, whether that is a car or a shower, or anything in between are designed for average height people, and we can’t reach,” said Brittany. “For example, I can’t reach my food at the to-go order counter at the bakery.”

Worst of all, people assume that individuals with dwarfism have other disabilities as well.

“I have also heard people say that people with dwarfism have mental disabilities as well as physical. This is nowhere near true. Dwarfism doesn’t affect an individual’s mental capacities,” said Brittany.

There are other challenges for LPs on a college campus. Since she and other individuals dealing with dwarfism have shortened extremities, it can make walking long distances to and from class difficult, as well as walking up and down the stairs.

Even the regular sized chairs can cause issues for Brittany because they are not comfortable since they do not support her shorter stature properly.

Luckily there is one place she can go that everyone there can sympathize with her: The Little People of America Convention.

“LPA Conventions are very interesting. Since my form of dwarfism is on the taller end of the spectrum, I feel like a giant for a week,” said Brittany, smiling and laughing at the irony.

The conventions usually include a variety of activities that range from sporting events to banquets, as well as informational sessions and meet-and-greets with influential LP’s from around the country.

“This past year in Dallas there was a tour of the Dallas Cowboy’s stadium and a trip to a rodeo,” recalled Brittany.

Even though it can sometimes be difficult for Brittany to reach the counter at the bakery, walk to her classes or even sit through a long day of lectures, the amount that she has learned and gained since being told she had hypochondroplasia has been the most rewarding.

“Even though I don’t always do things the normal way, I always find a way that works,” said Brittany. “And I am accepting to others who society views as being different, especially those with a physical disability.”