Teenager battles through health problems to reach 18th birthday

James Dunn celebrates his 18th birthday at Greenfields School. Mother Sheena Owen.
James Dunn celebrates his 18th birthday at Greenfields School. Mother Sheena Owen.
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A TEENAGER who has battled a rare genetic disorder all his life celebrated his 18th birthday today.

James Dunn was for years a boy trapped in a baby’s body, unable to walk, talk or eat properly.

The youngster then travelled to the United States, where he received specialist treatment for Opitz Syndrome.

But plucky James has come through the worst of his condition and his family is looking to the future with much more confidence.

His parents, Sheena Owen and Gerarde Dunn, of Tennyson Avenue, West Boldon, say they are “proud” of their way their son has overcome many medical issues, including learning difficulties, speech and balance problems, and a club foot.

Mrs Owen, 51, said: “James is really doing well, considering all the problems he has faced over the years.

“The staff at Greenfields School where James attends are really pleased with the way he has improved recently.

“James will leave the school next year and we’re hoping he will the start studying at a specialist unit at South Tyneside College.”

In 1996, thanks to an appeal, James jetted off to Colorado in the US, where he underwent an in-depth assessment by Dr John Opitz, who first diagnosed the condition.

Two years later, James travelled to Salt Lake City in the US, where his family met many other children born with Opitz Syndrome.

James enjoyed his birthday cake with fellow pupils and staff at Greenfields School, and his family is looking foward to an 18th birthday celebration for about 140 people at The Big Club, Boldon, this weekend.

Deputy headteacher Emily Royle, who is also James’s class teacher, said: “We used to have problems with getting James to eat and his mobility, but he has really improved over the last year or two.

“Plus, he has come out of his shell and is communicating better. He played Prince William when we recreated last year’s royal wedding and also sang in an X Factor-style show.”

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