Morquio Syndrome in Freak the Mighty

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

One of the central focuses of ''Freak the Mighty'' is the physical appearance of Kevin (also called 'Freak'). This lesson explores Morquio syndrome, the underlying cause of Freak's health problems.

Freak the Mighty

Have you ever been bullied at school? Maybe someone picked on you because you were too short or too tall. Or perhaps you did something funny by accident in class. Regardless or the reason why, being bullied is an awful feeling. In Freak the Mighty, the two main characters, Maxwell and Kevin (also called 'Freak') are picked on for a number of reasons. Max is very tall and looks a lot like his father, a convicted murderer. Freak, on the other hand, is really short, and has to wear leg braces and use crutches to get around. Together, Max and Freak make an unstoppable duo...Freak rides on Max's shoulders and the two become 'Freak the Mighty'.

As you read the book, Freak's physical appearance and health are a central part of the story's plot and conflict. You may have wondered to yourself, 'What condition does Freak have?' In the book, Freak has a condition called Morquio syndrome, a genetic condition that affects the way his body develops. According to the author, Rod Philbrick, the character Freak was actually based on another little boy who he knew with a similar condition.

Morquio Syndrome

Morquio syndrome is a genetic disorder, meaning it's created by a defect in the basic blueprint that makes up a human (your DNA). The syndrome is very rare. Only about one in 200,000 people born are diagnosed with the disorder. Symptoms do not always show up right away; instead, children begin to show signs of Morquio syndrome after they turn one year old.

People with Morquio syndrome are unable to break down a special type of sugar called glycosaminoglycans. To break down these sugars, the average person has special chemicals in their bodies called enzymes. For people with Morquio syndrome, their bodies experience one of two problems:

  • they do not produce enough of the enzyme to break down the sugars
  • their bodies produce enzymes, but the enzymes do not work the way they're supposed to

So why is this important? Glycosaminoglycans (the special type of sugar) is broken down by the body to help grow important body parts like:

  • bones
  • cartilage (connective tissue)
  • muscles and tendons

If a person is unable to break down these sugars, that means that their body struggles to grow and develop normally. As a result, people with Morquio syndrome have a number of physical problems:

  • curved spines
  • vision and heart problems
  • nerve damage
  • large heads
  • unusually flexible joints
  • short stature, including a short torso (the core of your body)

How Morquio Syndrome Affects Freak the Mighty

Kevin ('Freak') experiences many of these symptoms, especially the short stature and joint problems. This is why he uses leg braces and crutches. For Freak, he does not let his genetic disorder affect who he is as a person. Instead, he embraces his disease and imagines a reality where he's actually a bionic man, or part man part machine.

Throughout the story, readers get little glimpses of how challenging life for Freak is. His physical stature makes it difficult for him to get around. He also goes to the hospital with regularity. Luckily, Max is able to accompany him on occasion and the two have little adventures.

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