By Kim Reader
The mum of a teen who could be killed by a single blow is terrified she could die in lessons if violent bullies attack her – after her aunty died at the same school 17 years ago.
Lauren Stribling, 13, could be killed by a knock on the head or chest and has to avoid all contact sports as she suffers from the genetic disorder Marfan syndrome fa.
The disease causes every in Lauren’s body to be extra stretchy and she has elongated bones and fingers – standing more than a head above her friends at 5ft11in and with size eight and a half feet.
The teen’s aunt Jennifer Carter died from the same condition in 2000 at the age of just 15 after collapsing in the corridors Oldershaw School – the same school Lauren now attends.
Lauren’s mum Cath Carter, 35, claims her daughter has been threatened by bullies who threatened to slap her for ‘faking’ her disability – and is terrified this means she could lose Lauren too.
The full-time mum from Wallasey, Wirral, who also suffers from Marfan syndrome, said: “Lauren can’t do any contact sports at all because a single knock of the head or blow to the chest could kill her.
“If Lauren got hit in the chest, because the valves in her heart are stretchy, blood could move the wrong way through her heart and kill her. She’s also really prone to getting a collapsed lung.
“Because she is just really tall some of the other kids in school don’t realise just how serious her condition is but I lost my mum to Marfan and then two years later I lost my sister.
“Jennifer died when she was just 15. She collapsed and died in the corridors at the same school Lauren goes to and every day I am filled with worry that the same will happen to her.
“It’s one thing to worry but when Lauren came home last week telling me some bullies had threatened to slap her for faking her condition, it was heartbreaking.
“No parent wants their child to be bullied but for me, one slap could be the end for Lauren. Now every morning when she goes to school I am terrified.”
Parents with Marfan syndrome have a 50 per cent chance of passing it onto their children.
And Cath admitted after losing her mum and sister at a young age she had Lauren for ‘selfish reasons’ because she wanted someone to shower with unconditional love.
As the mum-of-one knew there was a chance Lauren would have the condition, doctors were able to diagnose the teen at just four months old despite her symptoms not appearing until she was seven.
Cath said she has spoken to Lauren’s school, which is now known as Oldershaw Academy, regarding the bullying and said staff had been ‘really helpful’.
She said the school have been ‘brilliant’ in accommodating Lauren’s condition and making sure she keeps active despite having to miss out on contact sports like football and netball.
But Cath claims this is not the first time Lauren has been subjected to bullying as her daughter has also been taunted with names like ‘lanky’ and ‘big foot’ in the past.
The mum-of-one feels the alleged threat of physical violence against her daughter highlights a lack of awareness not just of Marfan syndrome but other ‘invisible’ obvious disabilities and disorders.
Cath said: “Marfan causes problems with your connective tissue so everything in your body is stretched and extra-long. People are usually really tall with long faces and slim fingers.
“Because all her ligaments are extra stretchy, Lauren’s got hypermobility so she’s really flexible and her bones are long so she’s the tallest in her class – she’s taller than all the girls and most the boys.
“She really struggles to find clothes that fit because she is so tall but so slim and shoes can be a nightmare as her feet are a size eight and a half.
“She takes everything in her stride. She is such a strong character – it makes me really proud.
“Instead of letting the bullies get to her, she has really embraced being different. Some days she even tells me she wishes she was taller.
“She is proud to stand out and she should be. People will try to pick on her for her height but she always has a really witty come back. It is really refreshing to see.
“The thing that does really upset her is not being able to do things that everyone else is doing. High heels are an absolute no and quite a few different activities and sports.
“The school have been brilliant. They’ve really worked hard to accommodate her condition. And as soon as I mentioned the bullying, they have been really helpful.
“But there just really needs to be more awareness out there. These kids were telling her she isn’t really ill and that’s not on. Parents need to be doing more to teach their kids about less obvious disabilities and disorders.
“Sometimes I feel like I had Lauren for selfish reasons. I knew there was a 50 per cent chance but I wanted my own family to pass on that love to.
“After losing my mum and my sisters so young, I wanted someone to love unconditionally, the way I’d loved them. It makes me feel quite guilty.
“But luckily it means Lauren was diagnosed really young and she has had the absolute best care possible since then. She still goes for regular check-ups and I know so much about the condition.”
A spokesman for Oldershaw Academy said: “The Oldershaw Academy is an inclusive school that places the needs of the individual child at the heart of all we do.
“Like every school in the country, bullying is an issue that, sadly, we have to deal with from time to time and, when issues are brought to our attention, we strive to address them as quickly, effectively and proportionately as possible, working with the family or families concerned to bring the unacceptable behaviour to an end, support the victim of bullying and ensure the perpetrator does not repeat their behaviour in future.
“Furthermore, we do extensive preventative work all year round by tackling the issues around bullying through our PSHE and assemblies programme, the use of other professionals and agencies who work with young people and our daily Thunks which challenge children’s thinking to promote empathy and kindness.
“Indeed this year, as part of our ongoing cycle of school improvement, all staff collectively have selected kindness as one of three core values for Oldershaw (along with pride and resilience) to deliver our newly agreed vision of ‘Excellence Together’ and mission ‘To nurture happiness and academic success’.
“These core values embody our collective aim to nurture every aspect of each child’s welfare in school.
“Oldershaw has a very child-orientated pastoral system that places positive relationships between adults and children at its centre.
“All children have a form tutor, progress leader and assistant progress leader linked to their form/year group and, wherever possible, these remain unchanged until the end of Year 11.
“Furthermore, unlike many secondary schools, we maintain two tutorial times a day totalling 30 minutes and have a further 50 minutes once a week, such is the premium we place on positive relationships with young people.
“This time allows us to ensure every child has at least one adult in school (although in practice there are often many more) they know and trust who knows them.
“Finally, in order to support parents, the Principals operate an open door policy for parents and have a drop-in surgery every Monday evening for those who wish to raise issues of concern. Staff also make themselves available to parents at the school gates and beyond at the end of every school day in order to be as accessible as possible.
“We work exceptionally hard at Oldershaw to avoid complacency around all issues related to children’s welfare and bullying is no exception.”
FACT BOX: WHAT IS MARFAN SYNDROME? (Information from the NHS)
• Marfan syndrome is a disorder of the body’s connective tissues – a group of tissues that maintain the structure of the body and support internal organs and other tissues.
• Children usually inherit the disorder from one of their parents. There’s a one in two (50%) chance that the child of a parent with Marfan syndrome will inherit the syndrome.
• Some people are only mildly affected by Marfan syndrome, while others develop more serious symptoms.
• Typical characteristics of Marfan syndrome include being tall, abnormally long and slender limbs, fingers, and toes, heart defects and lens dislocation – where the lens of the eye falls into an abnormal position.
• The gene defect leads to abnormal production of a protein called fibrillin, resulting in parts of the body being able to stretch abnormally when placed under any kind of stress.
• There’s no cure for Marfan syndrome, so treatment focuses on managing the symptoms and reducing the risk of complications.