Sunday, August 15, 1999

Dimmer school means brighter future for Abby

Shielding allows regular classes

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MIDDLETOWN — The sound of the school bell Aug. 26 will have special meaning for Abby Perkins-Banks, the 5-year-old girl with a rare skin disease, xeroderma pigmentosum (XP).

        That bell will signal the start of a new adventure for the tiny blond dynamo who won the hearts of thousands last spring when she visited Mickey Mouse and romped in the Florida surf, protected by her new astronaut-style suit.

        But getting Abby ready for school requires more than just new clothes, a book bag and school supplies. Exposure to the sun can be deadly for her, causing skin cancers and other life-threatening ailments. The biggest problem was figuring out how to protect her from the sun streaming through Middletown Christian School's windows.

        That problem has been solved. On Saturday, Suntrol Co. Inc. of Cleveland and Solar Tint of Ohio of Fairfield covered the windows in Abby's classroom and the gymnasium with a special film to block out nearly 100 percent of ultraviolet rays.

        So when Abby joins 41 other kindergarten students, she can concentrate on her new playmates — not the dangerous rays.

        “I'm soooo excited,” Abby said last week. “Did you know that I'll get to play with other kids every day? And the sun won't hurt me 'cause they're covering the windows at my new school.”

        Abby was diagnosed at age 9 months with XP, which affects about 1,000 people worldwide. She spent most of her daylight hours in semi-darkness until late 1998. Her world opened when super- model Christy Turlington donated $2,000 to buy Abby two NASA-designed suits. The suits block out the sun so Abby can be outside even in bright daylight.

        XP is a rare, genetic disorder that prevents DNA from repairing itself. It causes the skin to be extremely sensitive to ultraviolet light, even from some indoor lights. Even minimal exposure can cause severe burns.

        The disease can cause skin cancer, eye damage and premature aging. Abby has had several skin cancers removed; doctors say her skin is like that of a 50-year-old.

        The protective 3M Scotchtint product being used on her school windows was donated by 3M; the labor to install it was donated by the Ohio companies. Last month they covered the windows in the Perkins-Banks home and vehicle, said Abby's mother, Caroline Perkins-Banks.

        John Hansen, Suntrol president, heard of Abby's plight and wanted to help. He asked Gary Young, Solar Tint presi dent, to be a local liaison, and Mr. Young suggested a joint project.

        “She's a little girl that didn't have a chance without help,” Mr. Hansen said. “I thought our product would help her.” “This is a way we can help provide Abby with a better lifestyle,” Mr. Young said. “I love it.”

        Abby will wear her NASA suit to school, then take it off until she goes outside. Indoors, she'll wear other special protective clothing.

        A West Harrison, Ind., boy, Cody Lloyd, 7, who also has XP, got to go to class for the first time last school year after the school's windows were tinted. And he started going outside with other youngsters last spring after classmates at North Dear born Elementary School collected pennies to buy him two NASA suits.

        For Abby, the excitement of the classroom is just about to begin.

        “I'm going to go outside and play on the playground,” Abby said. “I'm going to do my ABCs. I'm going to read with the other kids. I can't wait.”


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