Reports claim that Ryan Dant recently achieved his dream of graduating from the esteemed University of Louisville, almost 20 years after doctors said he should’ve died.
A CNN story indicates that the 29-year-old Dant had always dreamed of attending his dream school in Kentucky, but a rare disease known as mucopolysaccharidosis I (or MPS I) threatened to sideline those dreams. Now, with a freshly-minted diploma in hand, the young man can proudly say he did the impossible; he cheated death.
Ryan’s father, Mark Dant, says his son was born with a love for baseball, and his athletic prowess at a young age certainly indicated that, even as a toddler, the boy was destined to do great things. In fact, at just 3-years-old, Ryan could allegedly throw a ball so hard, his mother had to forbid him from playing in the house; an extraordinary feat when one considers many 3-year-olds can’t even hold their own body weight up on two legs yet. While his mother’s strict “no ball in the house rule” meant Ryan couldn’t keep working on that arm of his, both of his parents claim that didn’t stop him from cheering on every baseball game that came on the family’s television set, and emulating the players, particularly the pitchers.
One routine doctor’s check-up that same year did, however, slow Ryan down considerably.
The Dants indicate that before enrolling their son in preschool, they took the boy to the pediatrician to make sure he was squared away medically and ensure he was ready to start interacting with his soon-to-be school peers. At that checkup, however, the doctor found something peculiar: Ryan’s liver and spleen were much too large for his body size. Fearing the worst, the pediatrician immediately referred the Dants to a geneticist to run a series of tests on the 3-year-old.
Those tests would be the beginning of several emotionally devastating years for the young family.
The geneticist confirmed that there was indeed something wrong with Ryan, but the illness the boy had was so rare, there really was very little the doctor could do to attempt to fix things. The illness, MPS I, was essentially a mutation in a gene that produces an enzyme that breaks down the byproduct of chemical reactions in cells. Ryan’s mutation prevented this enzyme from being produced, which meant that all of the chemical waste from his cells was building up in his body, particular in his liver and spleen. In fact, young Ryan’s two organs were so filled with this toxic waste that they were almost three times bigger than normal. The geneticist told the Dants that Ryan wouldn’t live past 10 or 12, and that his decline would be a slow and agonizing one. The boy would soon be in almost constant pain, go blind and/or deaf, lose most function in his limbs, and decline mentally until he was unable to understand the world around him.
His parents were devastated. According to Mark Dant, the two adults would cry themselves to sleep every night, awaiting the inevitable. Though Ryan was too young to understand what was going on, it seemed he could sense there was something wrong. The house was heavy with depression for a full year after the doctor’s diagnosis.
Mark, however, claims that after that year, he resolved to do something, anything, about his son’s condition. For funding, he started a charity and held countless fundraisers. To find a cure, he traveled around the world looking for researchers and physicians to help him help his son. Eventually his quest led him to a young UCLA graduate that offered his assistance. That graduate, Emil Kakkis, teamed up with the Dants, and used the money they raised from charity events to help fund his research on a cure for MPS I. Meanwhile Ryan started declining. He lost motor function, had to quit playing sports, and couldn’t even stand up straight. The Dants became desperate.
In 1998, Kakkis had a breakthrough. He created an experimental drug designed to slow down the effects of the disease, and, with Ryan as the test patient, found that it worked. In fact, reports indicate that the drug worked so well, Ryan began to return to normal. By 12, he could play baseball again. As he entered his teenage years, he could enjoy things like prom and driving. As long as he consistently received treatments, life got better.
That is, until the end of high school.
Although Ryan’s physical body was getting better, his brain had begun to deteriorate. As he aged, he began to forget simple things. He graduated high school, but a cognitive test at the University of Minnesota revealed that his brain was shutting down at a rapid rate. The Dants prayed for another miracle, and they got it in a Dr. Elizabeth Maher.
Maher, a neuro-oncologist, proposed a treatment procedure for Ryan that would, if successful, protect his brain from deterioration, though it came with the potential for serious side effects.
After careful consideration, Ryan opted for the procedure.
After almost 24 hours in the operating room, Maher came out with good news: the procedure was more than a success; it was actually working to reverse the previous damage done to Ryan’s brain.
After a few weeks of more procedures and intense observation, Ryan returned to full health, and was able to attend college on a full scholarship.
His graduation this weekend wasn’t just the end of a college career, it marked a milestone in the journey of a man who refused to give up, no matter the odds.
[Featured Image by Rick Diamond/Staff/Getty Images]