An 18-year-old prodigy named Raymond Walter is running out of time.
On Saturday, he will graduate from the University of Arkansas with a bachelor of science degree in mathematics, physics, and economics. From there, Walter plans to pursue doctorate degrees in math and physics, but he’s fighting a deadly disease that claims most before the age of 25.
Known as Duchenne muscular dystrophy, this rare form of the disease causes the muscles to rapidly weaken and waste away.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is found in one of every 3,600 male births. By the age of 12, most are confined to a wheelchair. By age 20, heart disease and breathing difficulties emerge. In rare cases, an individual can live into their 30s.
While there has been some advancement in muscular regeneration through the use of stem cells and the FDA recently launched a promising drug trial, the disease is still a long way from a cure.
But it hasn’t stopped 18-year-old prodigy Walter from accomplishing something that for many would be impossible.
In a recent interview with the University of Arkansas Newswire, Walter opened up about Saturday’s accomplishment. “I really do just love learning … I like to learn as much as I can. I am willing to work and I want to work and learn. There’s an element of ability, for sure, but it wouldn’t mean much at all if I didn’t work as much as I do.”
Just how much does this 18-year-old prodigy work? According to his father (and caregiver) Hal Walter, his son “goes to bed after midnight, every night … He doesn’t watch movies. He doesn’t play video games. He sits at his computer with two desks worth of books open for 12 to 14 hours a day. He works constantly.”
“I don’t anticipate living as long as usual,” said Raymond. “In some respects, there is a lot of pressure to get as much done as I can. I don’t waste time. I skipped three years of grade school and to some extent I’ve continued my acceleration since I reached the university level. I finished my undergraduate economics course work in my freshman year. So as a sophomore I began to take graduate courses.”
To put the 18-year-old prodigy’s accomplishment in perspective, he graduated high school at age 14, and in four years earned three four-year degrees. Eliminating general coursework from the equation for two of those degrees, he has accomplished in four (with a crippling and lethal disability) what it would take eight years for an above average, healthy, and motivated student to accomplish.
For Danny Pugh, vice provost of student affairs and dean of students at the University of Arkansas, Raymond Walter is unlike anyone he has ever seen.
“I was blown away with Raymond from the first moment we met,” Pugh said. “Here was a brilliant young man who has embraced his academic pursuit from the moment he chose to come to this campus. He has never allowed challenges to stand in the way of his goal.”
Aiding Raymond’s pursuits are his family, in particular father Hal, who lives with his son during the week and drives them both six hours round-trip each weekend to manage the family farm on 193 acres in the northern part of the state.
“Hal is my hero,” Pugh said.
For Hal, the current arrangement was something the family was aware of before Raymond’s graduation from Mountain Home High School in 2009. “Several years prior to that, we were well aware of what Duchenne muscular dystrophy meant,” Hal said. “We rearranged our lives so I would be available to care for him. We just adapted.”
Have you ever known anyone like this 18-year-old prodigy? What would you do differently if you knew there wasn’t much time left?