Peter Mayhew (the actor who played cute Chewbacca in the Star Wars films) who sadly passed away on April 30th aged 74 will be missed by millions. The 7ft 3in larger than life character had brought Chewbacca to life since 1977 until recent years. Most were transfixed on Chewbacca and many did not know that Peter had Marfan Syndrome.
This, the most common connective tissue disorder, still is relatively unknown to the general population. It can affect the heart, eyes, lungs, blood vessels, joints, bones, ligaments, skin and any connective tissue in the body. Some with Marfan’s go on to live a life unaffected whereas others have a multitude of complications throughout life. The Skeletal system in those with Marfan Syndrome is usually affected in one way or another and this is one of the signs that is usually picked up by medical staff.
Throughout history there have been many people in the public eye that have had Marfan Syndrome. From presidents to musicians, sports personalities to actors, each one has found their own place in history and usually for the right reasons. Composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninov and violinist Niccolo Paganini were both believed to have Marfan Syndrome which meant that their supply long fingers could be used to their advantage to create such beautiful masterpieces. The actor Vincent Schiavelli (from ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest’) was a member of the National Marfan Foundation that supports people with the syndrome, before his death from a collapsed lung. Abraham Lincoln was never officially diagnosed but many believed that he also had the condition.
Isaiah Austin the American Professional Basketball player uses his height to his advantage in the game and after a small break in his career post diagnosis, he was cleared to play again. 6’5” Flo Flyman, the American Professional Volleyball player was at her peak when she sadly passed away during a game due to complications from Marfan Syndrome that she was unaware that she had. Many professionals in the sporting field go undiagnosed which can have a devastating affect due to the implications of cardiac involvement.
With life expectancy of someone diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome increased over the last few decades due to medical monitoring and advances in medicine, they are now in line with the general population. The key though however is early diagnoses and early monitoring which is still not happening as much as it should. With correct medical care, individuals with Marfan Syndrome can live out their lives doing exactly what they were born to do and bring joy to the masses.
R.I.P. Peter Mayhew and all the other talented souls with Marfan Syndrome that have left their larger than life footprints on this world. You inspire the rest of us Marf’s to keep following our dreams.