I was so delighted to read about Professor Daniel Notterman’s research on telomeres (Life of the Mind, Sept. 13). My son was born with dyskeratosis congenita (DC), a rare and fatal disorder caused by exceptionally short telomeres. I often use the “shoelace cap” analogy to explain how telomeres act to keep our DNA stable while our cells divide. Often, bone-marrow failure is the first symptom of DC, since the blood-making cells divide faster than any others in our body. A person with DC is a naturally occurring example of what happens as we age and our telomeres become shorter and shorter.
My son passed away in September at the age of 22 from the combined effects of aplastic anemia, myelodysplastic syndrome, and pulmonary fibrosis. His genetic material is part of a research study at NIH that will ultimately help us understand the role telomeres play in the common diseases of old age, including cancer, osteoporosis, fibrosis, and organ failure. I’ll never know if my son’s telomeres were affected by both his genetic inheritance and life experiences, but I do note that he was separated from his birth mother on his first day of life and grieved her throughout his days.