When Georgie Wildgust was born in 1942, few predicted that he would live beyond his 10th birthday. Born with Down Syndrome, the prevailing scientific knowledge at the time pegged the life expectancy of those with the chromosomal disorder at 22 years old. Today, babies born with Down Syndrome are expected to reach their 60s due to early intervention, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and medical advances.
Wildgust, on the other hand, defied all expectations by celebrating his 77th birthday, and he is believed to be the oldest man in the United Kingdom with Down Syndrome.
Babies born with Down syndrome have an extra chromosome, which leads to a range of physical and mental issues. Though they vary across individuals, the effects of Down syndrome include common physical features, such as flat noses and small ears; mental challenges may range from mild to moderate; and common health conditions include hearing and seeing problems.
About half of babies born with Down syndrome are born with a congenital heart defect, and are at higher risk of other diseases, such as obstructive sleep apnea and thyroid disease. These conditions, however, can now be corrected.
Wildgust’s longevity may be largely due to his mother’s unconditional love, and refusal to give in to convention. According to his niece, Nikki Wright, “It’s probably because he had such a lovely childhood.”
She recalled that at a time when children with Down Syndrome were sent to live in institutions, Wildgust grew up playing with the other children in the neighborhood. “Nobody picked on him; they all took him under their wing and looked after him. It was one big happy community who looked out for each other. So he’s always been very sociable.”
Wildgust was born in the Cinderhill area of Nottingham, England to parents Hilda, a dressmaker, and Abraham, who worked in the mines. He has two siblings – younger brother Colin, who died three years ago at 71, and sister Jean Yessyan, 79, who often chats with him on Skype from Australia. Wildgust worked as a gardener and rug maker before retiring.
Following his mother’s death, he entered the Watcombe Circus learning disability care home in Nottingham in 1993, where he lives with 12 other residents. He enjoys singing, drawing, coloring, and going out for dinner. He said that dancing also keeps him young, always remembering to watch Strictly Come Dancing on Saturdays.
Wright said, “He used to do drama classes every week, which he loved. He does less of that now but he does keep busy. He also enjoys going to the seaside and having fish and chips and ice cream. I think being kept busy and socializing here has really helped him. The staff are amazing and it is such a family here. He is so happy all of the time. The staff here realize the importance of these friendships and it keeps them all going.”
The care home staff were also all praises for Wildgust. According to care assistant Javine Lacey, “Honestly, every single day you come to work he will make you smile. He is such a miracle. He has been through some medical issues and he was put on end-of-life care but he bounced right back. When he came back from hospital, he just said’ ‘y’all right darling?’ like nothing had happened.”
He celebrated his milestone with family and friends on August 16. “It’s amazing for him to get to this age. He was always told by his mum that he can do anything and because of that, he has always been very independent. He doesn’t like being told what to do really, but I do think that is why he has reached 77,” Wright said.
George Wildgust is proof that babies born with Down syndrome can lead long, healthy, fulfilling, and independent lives with the love and support of friends, family, and the community. With his zest for life, Wildgust is likely to dance his way to his 80s!
Watch George below!