With dwarfism, he struggles to be included in school and wants to go to the Paralympics – 26.08.2022.

16-year-old Rafael Vitorino was born with a weight of 48 centimeters and 3.8 kg. On his birthday, the whole family prayed that he would be born healthy. From the moment he was in Ana Lucia’s womb, it was already known that he would be different from other children. When they looked at him, the doctors were practically able to close their diagnosis: achondroplasia, one of the most common types of dwarfism.

At about the age of 7, Rafael really understood that he was not going to reach the same height as his schoolmates. “The age of 7 to 10 is the most difficult stage, because you see your friends growing up and you not, you start to feel the difference in height,” she says. Live well. “You wonder why it won’t grow more,” he says. He is the only one in his entire family who has a diagnosis. At the age of 16, he is 1.30 m tall.

There are some things that Raphael can’t reach, like the microwave that’s too high in the kitchen. It was this situation that led him to take the inclusive agenda to his school. “I took such a snack to heat up in the microwave oven and saw that it was out of my reach, not even my eyes,” he recalls. “So I asked to take it down. The drinking fountain was another matter,” he says.

In order to drink water and use the urinal, he needs a ladder, a stool, or that these objects are adapted to his height. To ensure that he is not excluded from an activity, he also needs a stool in the school chair and a ladder to reach the blackboard when the teacher asks the students to write on the blackboard.

So the traditional Colégio Pedro 2º in the capital city of Rio de Janeiro had to rethink its reach. His music teacher even got Raphael a customized keyboard so he could play. “I have short fingers, so I can’t make chords and notes, but the teacher noticed and I was able to learn to play,” he says.

Swimmer Rafael Vitorino, 16, with his parents Glaucio and Ana Lucia

Image: Personal archive

Before high school, Rafael’s parents, Ana Lucia and Glaucio, talked with principals, coordinators, and teachers to adjust the school environment. Today, he himself is the spokesperson for their needs.

“I managed to change some things, because they never looked at people with dwarfs,” says the student, who is the representative of his class at the school.

I’m the most popular at school, my friends accept me and it’s a “problem” when I celebrate my birthday, I want to invite everyone to a party. Rafael Vitorino, 16:00

In and out of school, Rafael lectures on inclusion to combat the prejudice he has already experienced, and talks about how sport is an important part of his trajectory and an important tool for inclusion.

“They do not perceive me as small, short, through stereotypes, but they see me as an athlete, I am the Rafinyan of swimming, the Rafinyan of badminton,” he commented. “Sports give us visibility, apart from well-being and self-esteem, it was a door that opened for me,” he says.

16-year-old swimmer Rafael Vitorino is Vasco's parathletist in Rio de Janeiro - Personal archive - Personal archive

Rafael Vitorino, a 16-year-old swimmer, is a Vasco paraathlete in Rio de Janeiro.

Image: Personal archive

“Children’s Champion”

Rafael has been a professional swimmer since 2018, but he showed love for water in his childhood. Due to dwarfism, doctors advised him to engage in physical activity. Despite loving football and wrestling, the seasons discouraged him. “Doing high-impact sports is risky because if I have a fracture, it’s more complicated because I’ve shortened the bones,” he explains.

So they put him in swimming and at the age of 4 he was already swimming in the Olympic pool. For a while he was affiliated with the state of São Paulo, but since he is based in Rio, he competes for his home state and trains in Vasco.

At the team club, he also discovered badminton, a sport that mixes tennis and beach volleyball, played with a racket and a shuttlecock. He collects medals in both modalities: 24 in swimming and two in badminton. “We have a champion son,” says the mother.

16-year-old para-athlete Rafael Vitorino has already won 24 medals in swimming - Personal archive - Personal archive

16-year-old para-athlete Rafael Vitorino has already won 24 medals in swimming.

Image: Personal archive

In the water, he competes with people with other disabilities, such as wheelchair users. In badminton, he competes with other people with dwarfism, because height is important for sports. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, he “punches” on the court for an hour and in the pool for two hours.

Through social networks, he hopes to get sponsorship to continue his career as a para-athlete and, who knows, be able to participate in the Paralympic Games. But anyway, he has a plan B. “I want to become a veterinarian or a marine biologist, I love animals, but I love sports, so I’m thinking about physical education,” says Rafael, who is full of dreams. Also interested in philosophy at school.

“Dwarf”, no.

Raphael calmly accepts his diagnosis and explains that dwarfism is the correct term for his condition. Nicknames mocking the height of a person with dwarfism are now ignored. “Dwarf is the most prejudicial way to talk about a short person,” he explains.

According to Juan Llerena Jr., a geneticist and researcher at the Osvaldo Cruz Foundation, achondroplasia is the most common type of dwarfism and has genetic causes. “Dwarfism is a general term, a well-known term that defines people with short stature,” explains the doctor. “Achondroplasia is a disease that can lead to a number of medical problems in different age groups,” says the doctor.

Treatment for achondroplasia is symptomatic, meaning pain is treated with painkillers and movement or mobility problems with physical therapy. In some cases, some type of surgery may be necessary. In April this year, Anvisa (National Agency for Health Control) approved a new drug, Voxzogo (or Vosoritide), which stimulates bone growth.

In the first few years of life, a person with achondroplasia may have problems with motor development due to a disproportion between the limbs and a condition called macrocephaly, where the head is larger than normal for age.

In general, problems with self-esteem can arise in childhood, in addition to the risk of being bullied at school, which affects mental health. In the future, problems related to sexuality can also affect the life of people with short stature.

A number of health problems can arise in adulthood, especially cardiovascular and obesity. On average, the life expectancy of a person with achondroplasia is ten years shorter than the life expectancy of someone of average height. “But the main one among all these problems is pain,” says the geneticist.

People with dwarfism may live with locomotor problems and constant pain throughout their lives. Even with good physical fitness, Rafael feels pain in his legs and spine when walking long distances.

“Sports helped me even in this, because before I had to sit or ask for a hug when I was little, and today I only feel the pain of training, in the muscles, because swimming stimulates the development of the body,” he says. the para-athlete.

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