The Real Thumbelina tells the story of six year old Amelie Gledhill, a girl who suffers from an incredibly rare disorder known as Russell Silver Syndrome. The medical condition – present from birth – is characterised by slow growth, leading to an average height said to be just four feet eleven inches in male adults, and four foot seven in females.
Amelie’s journey is a particularly difficult one; she suffers badly from the effects of the syndrome leaving her with an almost non-existent appetite, and as a result must be fed from a tube going directly into her stomach. With curvature of the spine, the possible growth-hormone treatment which most sufferers benefit from also appears to be a complicated option for her.
Naturally, the documentary is pretty hard-going and expectedly sad. Amelie’s parents are left frustrated by doctor’s answers (or lack thereof) and find the notion of letting their fragile girl begin school a difficult one to come to terms with. We follow their journey to America, as they search for a realistic prognosis for Amelie. Along the way we also meet six year old Ollie, whose parents are struggling with the decision to go ahead with the growth hormone and the possible side-effects it may result in for their daughter; and Zillah, a fun-loving thirty-six year old woman who has come to terms with her life and height.
ITV has come in for some criticism regarding their heavy-handed treatment of certain issues of late, and sadly the title of this documentary doesn’t do much to help their cause. The Real Thumbelina as a name appears to glorify what is in reality a testing and – as in the case of Amelie – debilitating condition. However, its sufferers are also often able to go on to lead complete and fulfilling lives; a fact fantastically highlighted by the self-assured Zillah, who you certainly can’t imagine allowing anybody to liken her to Thumbelina.
Nonetheless, I’m sure the documentary will be successful in highlighting Russell Silver Syndrome, and indeed the impressive spirit and courage of Amelie.