Massachusetts Boy Dies from Complications of Accelerated Aging Disease

On Saturday the New England Patriots huddled, bowed their heads, and prayed a moment of silence to raucous Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. A minute to remember Sam Berns, 17, who loved football first and foremost.

Sam died Friday evening. The night before he was meant to attend a Patriots' playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.

He succumbed to complications of the rare, premature aging disease from which he'd suffered since birth.

Progeria—an almost mythical affliction—is a genetic disease whereby a child manifests severe signs of aging throughout even the first couple years of life. It's a 1-in-8 million disorder. Per the Progeria Research Foundation:

Progeria signs include growth failure, loss of body fat and hair, aged-looking skin and stiffness of joints. As children get older, they suffer from osteoporosis, generalized atherosclerosis, cardiovascular (heart) disease and stroke. . . . Death occurs almost exclusively due to widespread heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide.

Berns was diagnosed with the disease as a toddler, and doctors warned his parents—Leslie Gordon and Scott Berns, both doctors themselves—that their son likely wouldn't live past 13.

While his parents haven't publicized further details regarding their son's fatal complications, HBO chronicled much of Berns' lifelong struggle with progeria in the documentary Life According to Sam, which debuted in October at the Sundance Film Festival. It was at the Sundance screening that Berns met Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who later pledged $500,000 to the Progeria Research Foundation. Founded by Berns' parents in 1998 in the months following their son's diagnosis, the Peabody, MA-based non-profit is committed to raising awareness of Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome, and to raising money for medical research of the yet incurable disease.

Sam Berns was committed to football, marching band, and teamwork.