Graduating from college is a milestone for any student — but it was particularly special for this 29-year-old because doctors never expected him to live past the age of 10.
Ryan Dant, 29, of Texas has had a rare genetic disease all his life, and after last Saturday, he also has a bachelor’s degree in sports administration from the University of Louisville.
“It was just a great feeling to walk across the stage to see all the hard work has paid off,” Dant told InsideEdition.com. “All the struggles I went through when I was young, all the doctors’ appointments and the trials, it all paid off in the end.”
Dant was just 3 years old when he was diagnosed with Mucopolysaccharidosis 1, or MPS 1. Doctors explained his body was not producing an enzyme that breaks down specific proteins.
They also told his family that kids with this rare condition do not often make it to 10 years old.
“It was pretty surreal and scary at the same time,” he explained. “My parents and I tried to live a normal life, and live each day like a normal young kid. None of us wanted to think that I was going to die.”
Aside for time spent at the doctor's, he continued to live a normal life including attending school regularly and playing baseball, until one day, at 7 years old, he couldn’t play baseball anymore.
In addition to a shortened life span, the disease also causes stunted growth, stiffening and curling of limbs, deafness, heart disease, breathing problems and mental deterioration, according to his hospital, UT Southwestern.
“When I was that age, I was getting horrible headaches where I would vomit and pass out,” he explained. “Because of the stiffening in my hands and joints, I couldn’t play baseball because I couldn’t grip a baseball bat and run.”
But his dad, Mark Dant, never gave up. When Ryan was 10, his dad was able to get him into a clinical trial that administered a synthetic enzyme into his blood stream.
By the time he was 12, Ryan's fingers loosened and he was able to go back to playing baseball.
But that wasn’t the last battle with his health.
“When I went to junior college in Dallas, I was studying a whole bunch, but when it was time to take a test, I was like, ‘Where is this information I studied? Why is my mind blank?’” Dant said. “I had to drop a science class because I was doing so bad. I studied my tail off for those exams and nothing was happening.”
Doctors then realized the synthetic enzyme used in the clinical trials wasn’t reaching his brain, and he would soon become mentally disabled.
“Graduating from a four-year university was a goal I wanted to achieve but the struggle began when I was in community college,” he explained. “How was this going to be possible with all the issues I have? Now what’s next?”
Thankfully, neuologist Dr. Elizabeth Maher of UT Southwestern Medical Center intervened and was able to inject the synthetic enzyme into his spinal canal, allowing the medicine to go to his brain.
Dant said the first book he read after the I.V. treatments was a biography of his role model, baseball player Josh Hamilton. When he realized he was remembering the facts, he knew the treatment was working.
Now that he’s reached his goal of graduating from college, Dant said he’s looking forward to getting a full time job as an executive assistant for a professional or collegiate sports team.
“I love sports,” he said. “My parents told me the night I was born, they went to a Texas Rangers baseball game, and that’s where I get my love for the Rangers.”