Meryl who suffers from Pompe
disease. The 21-year old loves to play the guitar and has a
passion for painting. She doesn't have proper limb movement
and is confined to a wheelchair due to the rare genetic
It is 11 a.m. on a breezy September morning. Meryl Sarah speedily
moves her wheelchair towards her drawing room where several of her
glass paintings grace the pale yellow walls like a palette. Her
limbs cannot move properly and she cannot stand on her feet as she
suffers from Pompe, a rare genetic disorder.
Sarah's back is bent as her spine remains swollen. Her stomach
gets bloated when her condition worsens. But nothing can stop the
21-year-old from entering her world of art - and scripting an
inspiring story for others who suffer from the disorder.
"I remember it was a dance class when I fell and could not get up.
I was an 11-year-old ...this disease has been with me since then,
but it never stopped me from following my dreams," said Sarah,
looking at the paintings at her home in Ghaziabad, near the
It was after a decade of doubt that her disease could be
Pompe, among a group of genetic diseases called Lysosomal Storage
Disorders (LSD), is caused by dysfunctioning of the body cells. It
is triggered by a genetic defect in enzymes that maintain cellular
functioning in the body.
With a rare occurrence of one in 5,000 live births, LSDs have seen
little research. Treatment through enzyme replacement therapy will
cost hundreds of thousands of rupees a month, say experts.
Sarah, a graduate of computer applications, has never let the
feeling of dependence sink in even as she plans to pursue her
masters in psychology - long distance.
"I need support for difficult movement like going to the toilet or
climbing the stairs. My parents have been my pillars of strength,"
she said, adding she has a passion for playing the guitar.
Pompe, Gaucher, Schindler and Wolman are some of the 45
"LSDs can be fatal as well as treatable. The disease affects
multiple organs and causes progressive physical and mental
deterioration over time," Madhulika Kabra, professor at the
genetics division in the department of paediatrics of the All
India Institute of Medical Sciences, told IANS.
A preventive programme for diagnosing LSDs during pregnancy is of
utmost importance, considering the high cost of treatment, say
"Prenatal diagnostic tests can be done in high risk families to
reduce the burden of these disorders. The enzyme deficiency is
present since birth but the onset of symptoms can be detected from
the neonatal stages," Kabra explained.
Enzyme replacement therapy that helps improve limb mobility is
available for just six of the 45 LSDs, pinning more hopes on early
diagnosis and preventive programmes.
"We have some compassionate access programmes for families that
cannot afford the expensive treatment. But, even then, the
awareness about the diagnosis during prenatal stages is very low.
We have very few palliative care centres for any of the LSDs,"
said Ratna D. Puri, consultant geneticist at Sir Gangaram Hospital
"In India, people have not even heard of the disease," Puri
The test is performed at 11 weeks (third month) in pregnancy and
can determine if the foetus is affected with the particular
disorder under investigation.
For Sarah, uncertainty binds her fate. "I don't know of enzyme
replacement yet. Let's see if any miracle waits for me and my
parents," she said.
"But doctors tell me that if I do not continue the medicines, I
may lose mobility in my upper limbs completely," she said even as
she continued to carry that faint smile on her face. "I want to
continue playing the guitar..."
(Madhulika Sonkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)