Down syndrome, the most common genetic disorder in humans, neither broke their spirit, nor did it set them back in life. If anything, these strong individuals have risen higher and shone brighter than the rest. In this Historyplex article, read about famous people with Down syndrome who made it larger than life.
|Did You Know?
Down syndrome occurs at conception itself, and not because of something the mother did, or did not do during the pregnancy.
As mentioned, Down syndrome is the most common genetic condition among humans. It is a disorder in which the person is born with 47 chromosomes instead of the usual 46. Also known as trisomy 21, it happens when the egg (sperm) is produced with a full or partial extra instance of chromosome 21. The presence of these extra genes is what brings about the alteration in the physical and mental developmental cycles of the person.
According to statistics, there are more than 400,000 people suffering from Down syndrome in the United States of America. Out of every 691 babies born in America, one is born with this disorder. Down syndrome is not a disease, and people suffering from it are not patients. Although their rate of physical and mental development is slower comparatively, and their immune system is slightly underdeveloped, it is completely possible for them to lead perfectly healthy lives.
Many people diagnosed with this condition did not lose hope. They fought back, faster, stronger, harder. Some are famous TV stars, some are brilliant sportspersons, and many of them are motivational speakers who take it in their stride to motivate and nourish other people suffering from the disorder. A few of them have been mentioned in this Historyplex article. Read on and be inspired!
Christopher Joseph Burke, born on August 26, 1965, is best known for his role as Charles ‘Corky’ Thatcher, in the popular television series Life Goes On. Corky was the first character with Down syndrome to appear on television. When diagnosed with Down syndrome, Burke’s parents were advised by medical experts to institutionalize him. Burke’s parents had bigger plans for him. They raised him at home and brought him up with tender love and care.
Young Chris was always fascinated by television and movies, and was desperate to make an appearance on the silver screen. His zeal to act, guarded by his parents’ support, helped him bag his first acting performance in Cardinal Cushing School’s production of The Emperor’s New Clothes. The success of this role inspired him further, and he improved his skills by reading, giving auditions, and attending night schools, until he landed his first professional acting job in the movie Desperate. Burke’s performance in Desperate impressed the officials and drove them to create Life Goes On with Charles ‘Corky’ Thatcher as the lead, which garnered instant fame and recognition for Burke.
An American citizen diagnosed with Down syndrome early in her childhood, Karen Gaffney has a list of ‘firsts’ credited to her name. She is the first person with Down syndrome to successfully complete a relay swim across the English Channel in 2001. She is also the first person diagnosed with Down syndrome to successfully swim nine miles across Lake Tahoe. She also became the first living person with Down syndrome who was accredited with ‘Doctor of Humane Letters’, an honorary doctorate degree by the University of Portland.
Gaffney is the president of Karen Gaffney Foundation, a non-profit organization, which aims at providing better opportunities and making the journey of life worthwhile for other people suffering from Down syndrome. A documentary based on her swim across Lake Tahoe, named Crossing Tahoe: A Swimmer’s Dream was directed. Among other awards and honors, Karen Gaffney also received the Global Down Syndrome Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award.
Tommy Jessop, born January 19, 1985, is the first British actor with Down syndrome to be directed in a prime-time BBC drama, Coming Down the Mountain. According to writer Mark Haddon, it was Jessop who inspired him to direct the film. Jessop’s performance received much critical acclaim and was infinitely loved and praised by the audience. The film earned a nomination for a television BAFTA for ‘Best Single Drama’. In 2008, the film won the RADAR People of the Year Human Rights Media AWARD.
Jessop has gone down in history as the first person with Down syndrome to professionally play the title role of Hamlet in Blue Apple Theater’s touring production. Jessop is a founding member of this group. He has also featured on various radio productions for the BBC. Jessop’s big dream is to star on EastEnders, a British television soap opera.
Stephane Ginnsz is notable for being the first person with Down syndrome to be featured as the lead actor in a motion film. The film was Duo: The True Story of a Gifted Child with Down Syndrome. Ginnsz was just twelve years old when she was directed to act in the movie. The movie was written, directed, and filmed by Stephane’s brother in 1995.
Stephane’s performance in the movie was appreciated, and the movie went on to receive many awards, including a nomination for the TASH Media Award in 1996. It also gained an official entry at the Academy Awards in the Student Category in the same year. The movie scooped the Best Film Award in the same year. Stephane graduated from the Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, MD, and has also acted in commercials and theater plays.
Edward Barbanell, born in 1977 and diagnosed with Down syndrome during his childhood, is a very famous American actor. He is best known for portraying the role of ‘Billy’ in the movie The Ringer in 2005. Barbanell studied and graduated from Coral Springs High School, Florida, in the year 1996.
Edward Barbanell made his acting debut in 2000, mostly in plays, and has never looked back since. His keen interest in movies and acting pushed him to take acting lessons with famous acting personalities, like Jay Lynch of the Opus Theater, Allan Press of the Youth Theater, and Selma Glass at the Coconut Creek Recreation Center. Barbanell has also acted as himself in the movie Jackass 3D. He was also directed in a guest appearance as ‘Bradley’ in the series Workaholics on Comedy Central.
Judith Scott was an internationally recognized and renowned American fiber artist. Born deaf and mute with Down syndrome, but with a spirit that rose higher than the sky, her sculptures were loved and were featured in many galleries, like the Museum of American Folk Art (Manhattan, New York), Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art (Chicago, Illinois), Collection de l’art brut (Lausanne, Switzerland), and the American Visionary Art Museum (Baltimore, Maryland).
Pablo Pineda is renowned for being the first student with Down syndrome in Europe to obtain a university degree. He is also a Spanish actor who was awarded the Silver Shell in 2009 at the San Sebastián International Film Festival for his performance in the movie Yo Tambien.
Lauren Potter is an American actress best known for portraying the character of Becky Jackson in the popular television show Glee.
Paula Sage has many feathers in her cap. She is a Scottish actress, advocate for people with Down syndrome, as well as a Special Olympics netball player. She also acted in the British film Afterlife, for which she won the Best Actress in the Bratislava International Film Festival, 2004, and a BAFTA Scotland Award for the best first-time performance.
Isabella Pujols is the daughter of Los Angeles Angels first baseman, Albert Pujols. According to the Pujols, Isabella was an inspiration for the Pujols Family Foundation, an organization that creates awareness about Down syndrome and works whole-heartedly towards their betterment.
With so many advances in science, technology, and medicine, the life expectancy of people suffering from Down syndrome has increased from just 25 years to a wonderful 60 years. However, attributing this progress only to science would not be fair, as it is the willingness, positive attitude, hope, and strength of these people that keeps them going further ahead in life.