SA family with dwarfism: "Height doesn’t matter – what counts is your heart"

PHOTO: Dino Codevilla
PHOTO: Dino Codevilla

The three siblings couldn’t be more different.

Abigail (6) is mad about animals, talkative Khloe (5) wants to be a teacher and little Izak (3) is going to be the driver of the biggest truck on the road, like, ever.

Still, there’s no mistaking their family resemblance – with their fair hair and facial expressions they look like peas in a pod.

And there’s one other thing the Lowe children have in common: they’re all unusually short. Like their father, Stephen (40), they all have dwarfism.

“You get so used to being short it no longer bothers you,” says Stephen, who designs tents for a living.

It’s a midweek afternoon at the family home in Emalahleni, Mpumalanga. The festive season is nearly here and the kids are full of holiday fever, romping in the garden, eating cake and blowing bubbles for the dogs to chase.

“We don’t want them to think of themselves as different,” mom Rika (30) says.

“That’s why we want them all to go to a normal school. They must be able to enjoy being children and be allowed to make their own way in life.”

Abigail will start Grade 1 at CR Swart Primary School in January and Rika has already bought her new school clothes.

“They still need to be altered though. All the clothes we buy for them are too big, of course.”

Khloe will start in Grade R next year, while toddler Izak will remain at home under the watchful eye of Rika, a stay-at-home mom.

The couple have been married for seven years and for Rika it was love at first sight.

“Stephen was my neighbour. There was building going on next door and I kept checking out this attractive guy through the kitchen window.

“I noticed he looked a bit short but I thought he was down in the foundations of the house,” she says, laughing.

“It didn’t bother me in the least that he was short. Height doesn’t matter – what counts is your heart.”

A whirlwind courtship was followed by a wedding and it wasn’t long before Rika discovered she was pregnant.

She knew the chance of her children being born with dwarfism was high but that was fine by her.

“When I was expecting Abigail we were told at six months that she’d be a dwarf, but we weren’t in the least bothered. We knew she’d be healthy and happy and that was much more important.”

But Stephen admits he hoped their third child wouldn’t be a dwarf when he and Rika found out they were having a son.

“Because boys can be quite mean to one another,” he explains.

Yet it wasn’t to be – little Izak has the condition too. Rika is philosophical about it all.

“We have just one wish for our children – that they make a success of their lives. They must choose their own paths.”

Stephen agrees. “They have to try hard at school and study afterwards. They have to get a qualification.”

Each child has a different type of dwarfism but their parents have yet to confirm the various types by taking them for blood tests.

Their home environment is a place of love and acceptance but it isn’t always easy to cope with being different when they venture out into the world.

“It’s getting to Abigail,” Rika says. “She’s beginning to realise she’s shorter than the kids in her class and she’s asked us whether she’ll be as short as her dad.

“When we say yes, she starts crying.” They comfort her and try to reassure her that she’s unique and special, but children can be cruel.

“When Abigail went to school for the first time, two girls behind me commented about [the size of] her head and laughed. I turned around and they were gone – they knew they were headed for trouble.”

Rika is as fierce as a lioness when it comes to protecting her kids. The reaction from some people can really get to her, “especially when we’re in shopping centres”.

She tells us how a woman strained over the shelves one day trying to surreptitiously photograph the family.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Rika says. “At least some people have manners and ask if they can take a photo.

“The worst thing is that it’s adults who make a spectacle of us. Parents call their children and say, ‘Look over there! There they go!’”

But then she chuckles. “Of course, Stephen doesn’t make things easy either.

He’ll hide between the shelves or race down the aisles with the trolley and the kids think it’s a great joke.”

Stephen isn’t fussed by the unwanted attention. “I’ve got used to it. If people want to look, they must look.

“Earlier this year we took the children to the Dwarf Festival in Modimolle to show them that while they’re different, there are other people like them.”

The family also belong to a small group of dwarfs from Johannesburg who get together once a month to socialise and braai.

We look across the lawn to where Abigail is carrying a cooldrink to her grandpa, Koos Botha, her face a picture of concentration as she tries not to spill a drop.

“These kids are their grandma and grandpa’s pride and joy,” Koos says, giving Abigail a hug of thanks.

Home is a shining haven of love for the three Lowe kids – no matter how harsh the outside world may be.