Rare Condition Gives Toddler Super Strength

Filed under: In The News, Weird But True

Liam HoekstraAt first glance, Liam Hoekstra looks like your typical toddler. At 3 years old and 30 pounds, he sports a mop of curly brown hair and a mischievous smile. But hand the boy a pair of dumbbells and it is immediately clear that there is something special about him. With 40 percent more muscle mass than the average person and exceptional strength, agility and speed, Liam is a real-life Bam Bam Rubble.

No, Liam hasn't been working out -- he was born with a genetic condition called myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy. In essence, his muscle cells reject the protein myostatin, which results in above-average muscle development, a super-fast metabolism and virtually no body fat.

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Liam's parents, Dana and Neil Hoekstra of Roosevelt Park, Michigan, say they noticed right away that there was something different about their adopted son. At two days old, his legs could support the weight of his body while his mother held his hands for balance. By 5 months, he could do a difficult gymnastics move that most grown men can't manage.

"I would hold him up by his hands and he would lift himself into an iron cross. That's when we were like, 'Whoa, this is weird,'" says Dana.

As Liam grew, so did his strength -- and his parent's amazement. "When he fell backward, he would land on his butt, but he never hit his head on the ground," Dana says. "His stomach would tense up and he would catch himself before his head hit the ground. You could see his stomach muscles. He had a little six-pack."

Liam's condition is very rare. First documented in beef cattle in the late 1990s, the first human case wasn't discovered until 2000. Today, there are only about 100 known cases in the entire world. Scientists say that studying Liam and others like him could help them to understand the mystery of muscle growth and deterioration and possibly lead to new treatments for ailments such as muscular dystrophy and osteoporosis.

The good news is that while Liam's condition prevents his body from developing the fat young children need for brain growth and development of the central nervous system, he appears to be doing well both physically and mentally. But while he excels in the strength-related activities in his gymnastics class, he has more difficulty than other kids with his balance and flexibility.

The bad news is, he eats like a horse! "He's hungry for a full meal about every hour because of his rapid metabolism," says Dana. "He's already eating me out of house and home."

Keeping Liam fed isn't the only challenge his parents are dealing with. He's already given mom a black eye and put a hole in the wall during a tantrum. But if they can all survive his childhood intact, Liam's future looks pretty bright.

While Liam's dad dreams about his son's future spot on the football team at his beloved University of Michigan, mom just hopes for a normal life for her exceptional son. The Hoekstra's routinely refuse interviews with television news crews looking to sensationalize their son's story. "It's great that he's going to have some extra muscle mass, but I don't want him to be viewed as some kind of freak," says Dana.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.