Monday, October 21, 2013
Once again HBO brings us something sublime and wonderful; tonight it's the premiere of an irresistible documentary entitled Life According to Sam, from Oscar and Emmy-winning producers Sean and Andrea Nix Fine. Who is Sam? Sam is Sam Berns, 16 years old (he turns 17 this Oct. 23rd, in fact), a brilliant, funny, delightful, energetic teenager who just happens to have been born with progeria, the unusual disorder that causes youngsters to age rapidly and for which there is currently no cure.
You've probably seen documentaries on TLC or Discovery about kids with progeria; several have been made about this incredible syndrome. I have long been fascinated by progeria; I first read about it, I'm sure, in the National Enquirer years ago. That disreputable but crowd-pleasing publication regularly featured stories on progeria-affected children, and though the magazine was only trying to sell papers, what it also did was help bring the stories of these extraordinary children to light at a time when almost no one had heard about the condition. I was immediately taken with their unique and I've always thought almost magical appearance; they looked to me like super-evolved humans of the future, with their wizened features and hairless domes. But they're not that; they're only children laboring under early-onset physical maladies of the type many of us will eventually succumb to -- strokes, vascular issues -- only it will takes us decades to get there, and they start out that way.
Life According to Sam is also very much about Sam's parents Scott and Leslie, both doctors, who have taken their love for their own son and their concern for other children with progeria and worked to make a difference -- a real life-changing difference -- in their lives. We get to see how Leslie has turned progeria research into her medical specialty and come up with tangible results. We also get to meet other children with progeria who along with Sam are taking part in the medical trials which are part of the arduous process. Lest you think that this research could only benefit the admittedly small number -- probably less than 150 -- of children currently diagnosed with progeria, the aging process that is overtaking their bodies is the same one, though eight to tens times faster for them, that we all are facing. Discoveries for these kids might end up helping us all in some way.
You will want to visit the HBO website for Life According to Sam for more information about Sam, his family and the work they are doing; click here. Be sure also to visit the filmmakers' own website about the film for much more background info. Wikipedia has a fairly concise explanation of progeria here. People had a profile on Sam ten years ago which you can read here. Katie Couric had Sam and his parents on her show last week in anticipation of tonight's premiere; you can watch the interview segments here. Click here for a nice write-up on the special from the Boston NPR station; much of the progeria research is being undertaken at Boston's Children's Hospital. In addition to those documentaries on TLC, three years ago Barbara Walters did a segment for ABC News entitled 7 Going on 70; watch a little promo for it here and there are links to the full report also. 7 Going on 70 featured young Hayley Okines who has written a book about her life; more information on it here.
I think you're going to become fascinated by progeria after you watch Life According to Sam. I know you're going to fall in love with Sam Berns.
Life According to Sam premieres on HBO tonight at 9pm, with frequent encores throughout the next several weeks, on HBO On Demand and their online HBO Go service.