15-year-old Anna Hankins has Prader-Willi Syndrome, a rare, incurable genetic disorder that makes her constantly starving hungry. Her condition means she has low muscle tone, short stature, and can’t stop eating. When she was a toddler she would pinch food from her parents’ plates, eat entire cookies in one go, and would even dig through the bins in search of more food. She was diagnosed with Prader-Willi Syndrome when she was two, after her hunger became so extreme that her parents had to lock the fridge and cupboards to stop their daughter from ransacking them. ‘When Anna was young we didn’t get a lot of information about Prader-Willi and it was hard to comprehend it,’ explains Anna’s mum, Jennifer. ‘We would get up in the morning and in the middle of the night she had gotten up and made a whole cake. (Picture: Jennifer Hankins / SWNS.com) ‘We would clean her room and find empty food wrappers and candy wrappers – anything she could get her hands on. ‘We just didn’t know how to stop it. She got bigger and bigger and bigger. ‘She was very sneaky and quick and fast. it would start out as her drinking out of your cup if you had a sugary drink. ‘If you’re not looking at the food on your plate she would reach over and grab some. ‘We would say, ‘Here’s a cookie,’ and leave a box on the counter.
You’d come back and whole pack is gone. (Picture: Jennifer Hankins / SWNS.com) ‘When she was little, the first words out of her mouth were “I’m hungry” and the last ones were “I’m hungry”. ‘She eats anything she can get. There isn’t food she doesn’t like. She would get in the garbage can or drink a bowl or milk we hadn’t thrown out. ‘She can’t control it. She is hungry all the time. You want to feed your child. You don’t want them to be hungry. ‘It’s hard to find doctors that understand Prader-Willi, so in the younger days I didn’t know what to do and I would feed her.’ (Picture: Jennifer Hankins / SWNS.com) When Anna was 14, Jennifer attended an event at the Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh where she met specialists and learned about the condition. Anna was put on a special diet made up of three meals a day including plenty of vegetables, a little bit of meat, rice, fruit and vitamin supplements. She cannot have sweets or fatty foods because they cause her to rapidly gain weight, and in spite of the plan she currently tips the scales at 380lbs.
Because her body cannot break down food properly, Anna can’t lose weight. She also needs extra oxygen to help her breathe and is unable to dress herself or tie her shoelaces because of her size. Those are the physical effects of Anna’s condition. She also has to deal with isolation, stares from strangers, and comments from her peers. In short: Life isn’t easy. But that hasn’t held her back. Anna loves competing in pageants, and was recently crowned queen in an event celebrating women and girls with disabilities. (Picture: Miss Amazing / SWNS.com) In the national Miss Amazing contest in Mississippi , Anna picked up a sash and a crown, after getting glammed up in a pink satin dress. Competing in pageants has done wonders for Anna’s confidence, and she loves preparing
for each event. ‘I have Prader-Willi Syndrome and I get hungry a lot,’ says Anna. ‘It can be difficult to deal with sometimes. ‘I love Miss Amazing. My favorite thing is singing and makeup and hair.’ (Picture: Jennifer Hankins / SWNS.com) Anna’s mum, Jennifer, says seeing her daughter singing on stage makes a huge difference. ‘We walk into restaurants and people automatically stare at us,’ says Jennifer. ‘Little kids will say, “Oh my gosh, she is so fat.” It is because they don’t understand. ‘Taking part in Miss Amazing definitely helps with her self esteem, and seeing the other girls that have special needs helps her know she is not the only one. ‘She loves getting dressed up, wearing dresses and going up on stage and singing. She loves being the centre of attention. (Picture: Jennifer Hankins / SWNS.com) ‘I cry every time. I get nervous and anxious for her but then she gets up there and shines and can be herself. ‘It’s a moment where we can forget about all her problems.’
inspired selfies Lori Brasfield-Sanders, director of Miss Amazing Mississippi, said: ‘The biggest misconception people have regarding people with disabilities is that they cannot lead full, engaging lives. ‘Miss Amazing highlights the special gifts these girls and women do have. ‘Anna is an amazing ambassador – she is very popular and she loves participating. ‘She spreads joy wherever she goes.’