By Rebecca Lewis @RebeccaSLewis

With the wrinkled hands, and face of an elderly woman, Rochelle Pondare looks as if she has lived a long life

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Best of friends: Rochelle and eight-year-old Kim chat in Boston

But Rochelle, who has just turned eighteen, has a condition that makes her age prematurely.

The bubbly teenager from Manila, Philippines, was diagnosed with Progeria when she was five years old.

Just 100 children around the world have the condition and often do not live beyond their early teens.

The pair are both from the Philippines and suffer from Progeria
Rochelle has been told her physical age might be close to 144

The condition caused Rochelle to stop growing, and she lost her hair, but she wears fashionable bandannas and wigs, while working on her family's market stall, or going out with friends.

Progeria is caused by a genetic mutation which causes the cells of a patient's body to malfunction, effecting the tissues and organs, and causing children to age dramatically. Rochelle has been told her physical age might be close to 144.

But Rochelle is defying the odds, and is already one of the oldest progeria patients in the world. 

Like all teenagers she loves pop music, fashion and hanging out with boys, and has a close friendship with a boy from school.

Big family: Rochelle says her family are her inspiration

She said: “I’m always with boys, I’m friendly with boys rather than girls. I like boys better because they protect me when we go out.

“The boy I love became my best friend in grade 6. I share my problems with him. He is my soulmate.”

Rochelle, who has six brothers and sisters, does not worry about her condition, but looks after her younger siblings, who tower over her.

She also works on her family's fruit and vegetable stall, where she is popular with customers for her cheerful and friendly personality.

Rochelle and Kim qualified for the ground-breaking treatment
Progeria is a fatal disease - and Rochelle is living on borrowed time

Rochelle is determined to live as many years as possible, and has regular medical check-ups at Fatima University Medical Center in Manila to monitor her heart and other organs.

Her specialist Dr Imelda Cruz said: "Rochelle's desire to live is very strong. She wants to celebrate her 18th birthday because that is a big deal in the Philippines."

A new series of Body Bizarre, which begins this week, follows Rochelle and her family as she seeks help to prolong her life, and looks forward to her 18th birthday.

Rochelle's mother Rossanna, said: "Her hair started falling out when she was three years old. At five years old her skin started shrinking, that is when she was diagnosed."

Defying the odds: Rochelle is one of the oldest Progeria patients in the world

The family feared she would not be able to attend school because of her condition.

Rochelle said: “My body is ageing. I’m not growing. I feel like an old person, I’m short of breath. I have difficultly walking and feel tired. Sometimes my body aches."

She added: “I was very happy when I was able to go to school. 

"At first, I was nervous that they might not accept me because I am different but in God’s mercy, I was accepted in school.”

All grown up: Rochelle recently celebrated her 18th birthday - a milestone she never thought she'd see

The programme follows Rochelle as she is accepted on  an international research trial, and invited by the charity Project Michelangelo Foundation to undergo tests at Boston Children's Hospital in the USA.

Rochelle is one of the oldest children ever to be screened for the new drug, called Lonafarnib, which has been shown to reduce organ and vein damage, delaying the ageing effects of progeria. 

Dressed in a pink ball gown and tiara...
...Rochelle was the belle of the ball

Rochelle had to undergo heart and body scans, and blood tests to ensure she is strong enough to take the medication. She also met other children with progeria, including eight-year-old Kim, who is also from the Philippines.

Dr Mark Kieran, Director of Paediatric Neuro-Oncology at Boston Children’s Hospital, said: “It appears the drug prolongs the survival by reducing some of the heart and blood vessel damage that the disease does.  The drug cannot be seen as a cure-all for this disease.

“The kids still look like they’ve got progeria, but we’re already seeing prolongations and survival of three or four years.”

Beauty: Rochelle hopes to live well into her 20s with the help of the drug

The medication could help Rochelle live into her 20's, and every extra year of survival gives scientists more chance to find a cure.

After a series of medical tests, Rochelle was accepted on the trial, and now has Lonafarnib injections provided by her medical team in Manila.

The programme also follows the teen as she celebrates the milestone of her 18th birthday, dressed in a beautiful prom gown.

Rochelle says: “My family are the source of my strength and they are also the reason why I try to stand on my own. I do have dreams I want to reach, like to have my own house.

“I also want to have my business for my mom and dad so that they will no longer need to work and just stay at home. 

"That’s the reason why I have a brave soul. It’s for them.”

Rochelle's story appears in a new series of Body Bizarre, which starts this Thursday August 6th, 9pm, on TLC