Medical Mystery: The Smallest People in the World

Kristin is a primordial dwarf. She from a rare disease that retards her growth.

October 13, 2008, 8:10 AM

Jan. 8, 2007 — -- Although Kenadie Jourdin-Bromley is 3½ years old, she is only 27 inches tall and weighs about 10 pounds, the same as a 1-month-old infant.

Kenadie is a primordial dwarf.

"They are the smallest children in the world, and it is a big mystery as to why they are so small. We just don't know," said Dr. Charles Scott, one of the world's experts on the condition.

Scott is the co-director of the Skeletal Dysplasia Program at Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children. He estimates that Kenadie's condition, primordial dwarfism, is so rare that there are only about 125 people like her in the United States and Canada.

Primordials, unlike other dwarfs, have what are considered normal proportions, but their growth is retarded almost from the moment of conception. In fact, the name of the condition comes from one of the definitions of the word primorial -- "from the moment of conception."

Kenadie weighed only 2½ pounds when she was born. Her hand was as big as a quarter, and her foot was only an inch and a half long.

"I just want to hear her cry. … If she cries," Kenadie's mother, Brianne Jourdin-Bromley, said she remembered thinking. "Then she's alive. … And then we just heard this tiny, tiny little meow."

Kenadie was so small that nurses called her "Thumbelina." Doctors who had never seen a child as small as she was warned that the prognosis was not good.

"They really believed that she could not live," Brianne said. "And then you go back to her and you'd think, 'Well, how can she not be OK? She's so perfect.'"

Thinking back to Kenadie's birth, her proud father, Court Bromley, said, "I have never seen something so incredible and so perfectly formed."

Little did Brianne and Court know that they both carried a defective gene that gave them a one in four chance of having a child like Kenadie.

"The only way they're identified is after they've had one child," Scott said. "There's nothing we know that causes that mutation. Nothing that you can do to fix it or change it. It's purely chance."

Kenadie has experienced developmental delays and will always face serious medical threats. The bones of primordial dwarfs are very thin, putting them at high risk for breaks. There's also the danger of scoliosis -- a curvature of the spine -- and heart issues.

Perhaps the greatest threat to Kenadie -- one that must be watched her entire life -- is the risk of an aneurysm, a bulge in a blood vessel that can suddenly burst and kill.

These are the same threats that primordial dwarf Kristin Riley shares.

At 25, Riley is one of the oldest primordial dwarfs. Like Kenadie, Riley also struggled with developmental delays and did not begin speaking until she was 3 years old.

She has already lived through many of the challenges that Kenadie will one day face: the first realization that she is different and that she will always be the smallest in the class, and, the occasional taunts and stares from others.

These days one of Riley's biggest challenges is finding something to wear -- something fairly typical to any 25-year-old woman.

As a 42-inch primordial dwarf, though, she has to shop in the children's department.

Defying the odds, Riley has come a long way since childhood. Determined to become independent, she has started selling a line of Mary Kay cosmetics with her mother, is learning to drive in a specially adapted car, and is just three credits shy of completing a two-year college degree.

Kenadie's parents consider Riley their "shining star." They hope that Kenadie will one day turn out like her.

For her part, Riley has hopes for Kenadie that are much like those she has for herself. She has one piece of advice for Kenadie.

"To follow your heart. … Do anything you want and try not to let other people get you down," she said.

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