In fact,Stephanie Vrettakos,20,of Ellicott City,Md.,and a marketing student at High Point University,said,the look on people’s faces when they noticed her and her friends was priceless.
“And they walk in like,‘Oh…my…god,’” Vrettakos said.
Dwarfism is defined by the Shriners Hospital for Children as a genetic disorder in which a child’s bones do not grow in the usual way. According to the Little People of America,there are more than 200 distinct forms,and an estimated 30,000 Americans live with the condition. As adults,they are generally from 2 feet 8 inches tall to 4 feet 10 inches. In the most-common type,a person’s torso is a normal size,with shorter arms and legs and a larger head.
Leah Smith,Little People of America’s director of public relations,said that more than 2,100 people from infants to seniors are attending this year’s conference.
“It’s a huge conference,” said Smith,32. “For someone like myself,I’ve been coming since I was 10. It becomes like family.”
Sitting on the floor,Vrettakos said she comes to see old friends more than the sights. Lying next to her,Lydia Barber,17,from Bethesda,Md.,nodded her head.
So did the other six sitting around her.
“To feel the same as everyone else,” Barber said. “That’s the main thing.”
“It’s nice to be able to look someone in the eye when you’re talking to them,” Vrettakos said.
Everyone nodded again.
Asked what the hardest part of living with dwarfism was,Vrettakos looked for a way to describe it.
“Different,” Barber said.
“Knowing you’re different,yeah,” Vrettakos said. “The stares.”
The convention offers a chance for adults and kids to make lifelong friends – even if the time together is brief.
“We really only see each other once a year,” Barber said.
Jack McKenzie,63,of College Station,Texas,sat at his booth in the expo with his son,Jacob,17.
“I’m a craft person,” McKenzie said. “I sit here and see everybody. I get to meet everybody that comes through here.”
He used to knit – that doesn’t sell well in the summer – so he moved to duct tape. Duct tape wallets,duct tape neck ties and vests.
He adopted Jacob – also a dwarf – from Ghana.
A shy kid,Jacob was having a harder time making friends than Vrettakos and Barber did.
“First day,he stayed up in the room and watched TV,” McKenzie said.
“I like TV,” Jacob said,finally smiling.
“Today,he’s really getting more open. Kids are coming up to talk to him,” McKenzie said.
Mary Lane,36,from Westminster,Colo.,is average-sized,but found a niche market making clothing for people with dwarfism. She started a business called My Stature,last year,although she first had the idea 13 years ago,when she saw a little person crossing the street.
“His jeans were cut off,” she said. “And if you cut off jeans into shorts,it’s the widest part of the pant leg,and so he had little tree trunk legs. He was wearing a concert T-shirt that hung down past his knees.”
Some people have difficulty with buttons because of a lack of dexterity with their fingers,or the hole for the head is too small. Her clothes help people look and feel more like their peers.
“Things that people don’t realize,” she said.
Another man was selling pedal extensions for cars and trucks.
Others come for medical care – care that can be difficult to find in their hometowns.
“For the most part,if you have an ear infection,an ear infection is an ear infection,whether you’re a little person or whether you’re average sized,” Smith said. “But if you have spinal stenosis,then it becomes an issue,because my spine is made very differently than yours.”
Sitting next to her in a wheelchair was Joe Stramondo,31,chairman of the advocacy committee for Little People of America.
“My particular diagnosis,we don’t know,” Stramondo said. “I’ve seen lots of geneticists. Actually,I was with a geneticist this morning. They still don’t know.
“I just have a check-up once in a while to see if they’ve figured it out yet,” he said laughing.
Stramondo and Smith,like many others,met at an LPA conference.
Now,the Lubbock,Texas,couple is engaged.
“I think things have gotten better,” Stramondo said. “It might be anecdotal,but as far as the role models we see,they’re very different now.”
Reach reporter Memet Walker at [email protected] or 202-326-9867. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.