Monday, July 28, 2003

Five plan English Channel swim in honor of their ailing sister

By Andrea Uhde
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Michael Roberts, front, and his brother Courtney, on Friday evening at the Mt. Lookout swim club.
(Leigh Patton photo)
| ZOOM |
She couldn't stop eating. When she was a child in Kenwood, Patty Roberts would stuff food in her mouth whenever she got the chance. At her peak weight, the 5-foot-1-inch woman was 420 pounds; she couldn't walk from her apartment to her car without help.

It impeded her social life.

"She was in Girl Scouts and they just thought she was the sweetest thing ever, but of course when they would have sleepovers or parties, Patty was never invited," said her mother, Nancy Roberts, 74, of Columbus. "So she never had friends."

But the eating was one of a number of symptoms of a disease that would not be diagnosed until Patty was 33: Prader-Willi Syndrome. The disease results in life-threatening obesity in children, cognitive disabilities, behavioral problems and delayed motor skills.

Those with it are constantly hungry; the hunger can feel like piranhas eating at the stomach.

An estimated one in every 12,000 people have it, according to the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association. Until the syndrome started gaining attention two years ago, experts estimated that 80 percent of those with Prader-Willi either weren't diagnosed or were diagnosed but weren't being treated.

Patty had early symptoms: She wasn't able to walk until she was 2, and she could hardly talk as a child.

Patty is now 45, and her five brothers are making a special show of love. That's why they'll be braving the cold, choppy English Channel in a relay swim aimed at bringing awareness to Prader-Willi Syndrome. They'll swim the 22 miles from England to France sometime between Friday and Aug. 5, depending on the weather.

Two brothers, Michael, 39, and Courtney Roberts, 41, live in Mount Lookout. The other Roberts brothers are Andy, 43, of Grand Rapids, Mich. Matt, 42, of Chicago, and Jim, 38, of Columbus. They all grew up in Kenwood.

"Since (Patty) was kind of different from us, she may not quite have felt like she fit in," said Courtney Roberts. "The fact we're doing this hopefully gives her a sense that we care about her, that she's part of us."

Patty Roberts now lives in a group home in Delaware, Ohio, and has lost almost 300 pounds. She'll be accompanying her brothers to England.

She's excited about what her brothers are doing. "It's not just going into a pool and swimming," she said. "This is hard swimming."

The Robertses would be the first group of five brothers to swim the English Channel. They've been seriously training for three months. During the relay, each brother will take turns swimming an hour. On average, the swim takes 12 hours.

"It's great to do something that puts a focus on Patty," said Michael Roberts, a lawyer with Graydon Head & Ritchey. "Her life has not been great."



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