06/08/2010 02:19 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome, Rare Genetic Condition, Accelerates Aging In Seven-Year-Old Ashanti Elliott-Smith (VIDEO)

Parents often think their children grow up too soon, but a serious genetic disorder has turned a cliche into frightening reality for one British family.

Seven-year-old Ashanti Elliott-Smith suffers from Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, which accelerates aging. She attends a regular school and acts like a regular girl, but her physical obstacles are immediately apparent and the long-term prognosis is not good. According to the National Human Genome Research Institute:

As newborns, children with progeria usually appear normal. However, within a year, their growth rate slows and they soon are much shorter and weigh much less than others their age. While possessing normal intelligence, affected children develop a distinctive appearance characterized by baldness, aged-looking skin, a pinched nose, and a small face and jaw relative to head size. They also often suffer from symptoms typically seen in much older people: stiffness of joints, hip dislocations and severe, progressive cardiovascular disease. However, various other features associated with the normal aging process, such as cataracts and osteoarthritis, are not seen in children with progeria.

Some children with progeria have undergone coronary artery bypass surgery and/or angioplasty in attempts to ease the life-threatening cardiovascular complications caused by progressive atherosclerosis. However, there currently is no treatment or cure for the underlying condition. Death occurs on average at age 13, usually from heart attack or stroke

The New York Post reports that Ashanti is one of just 52 people in the world with the condition. In their video report, she appears playful and energetic. But her mother, Phoebe, must grapple with a likely outcome that no parent should face.