Robert Smith, the 7ft 8in man dubbed a ‘gentle giant’ by his mum, has died of a heart
attack at the age of just 24.
The Walsoken man passed away at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn last Tuesday.
Robert was virtually housebound in the four years before his death, bound the same condition which affected Joseph Merrick, famously dubbed the Elephant Man in the late 19th century.
He had proteus syndrome, a rare illness which causes the abnormal growth of a person’s bones, skin and head.
His story touched hearts across the country last year when an appeal was launched with the support of the Fenland Citizen to buy him a motorised wheelchair. Within weeks, more than £10,000 was raised.
Robert’s heartbroken mum Rita, 66, cared for her son single-handedly around the clock.
The mum-of-two, from Seabank Road, Walsoken, said: “Robert suffered a cardiac arrest and he just couldn’t breathe.
“I’m absolutely devastated. I can’t believe he has gone. I don’t know what I’ll do without him.”
Doctors predicted that Robert would only live for one month when he was born four weeks prematurely.
But against the medical odds he survived to attend primary school. At 16 he was 6ft tall and still mobile, but by 20 he could no longer walk.
During his life he underwent 74 operations, and suffered from hydrocephalus – water on the brain – and epilepsy.
The 19-stone giant had size 16 feet and a 40-inch inside leg and also battled sight and hearing problems.
Rita, who suffers from health problems herself, converted her front room into a bedroom for her son and dedicated her life to looking after him. Her only respite came when a carer sat with Robert for three hours once a week.
She said: “It’s been tough but I wouldn’t change Robert for the world as he was such a gentle giant and very loving.”