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Saturday night could have been a moment for Sam Berns to celebrate -- standing in the middle of Gillette Stadium, flanked by some of his beloved New England Patriots, and no doubt cheered heartily by the nearly 70,000 fans surrounding him.
But it wasn't to be.
Instead of having Berns as an honorary captain in their NFL playoff with the Indianapolis Colts, the Patriots held a moment of silence for the young man who inspired them and many others as he lived with progeria, which causes premature, accelerated aging.
"Do it for Sammy!" one man yelled, piercing the quiet, in video of the ceremony on Boston.com.
Berns died Friday evening due to complications from the rare genetic disease, according to the Progeria Research Foundation.
He was 17.
Children with progeria usually develop the first symptoms during their first few months. The earliest symptoms may include a failure to thrive and a localized scleroderma-like skin condition. As a child ages past infancy, additional conditions become apparent usually around 18–24 months. Limited growth, full-body alopecia, and a distinctive appearance (a small face with a shallow recessed jaw, and a pinched nose) are all characteristics of progeria. Signs and symptoms of this progressive disease tend to become more marked as the child ages. Later, the condition causes wrinkled skin, atherosclerosis, kidney failure, loss of eyesight, hair loss, and cardiovascular problems. Scleroderma, a hardening and tightening of the skin on trunk and extremities of the body, is prevalent. People diagnosed with this disorder usually have small, fragile bodies, like those of elderly people. The face is usually wrinkled, with a larger head in relation to the body, a narrow face and a beak nose. Prominent scalp veins are noticeable (made more obvious by alopecia), as well as prominent eyes. Musculoskeletal degeneration causes loss of body fat and muscle, stiff joints, hip dislocations, and other symptoms generally absent in the non-elderly population. Individuals usually retain normal mental and motor development.