Zach Pickard sits next to the cage of his beloved guinea pig KC, singing Queen's We Are The Champions.
KC responds to Zach's spirited singing by sitting quietly rather than skittering around his cage. When Zach reaches into the cage, the guinea pig responds patiently to the Zach's persistent cuddling, calmly chewing on the edge of Zach's T-shirt sleeve.
Zach, the Lexington child who has the rare premature-aging disorder progeria, is now 7 years old and ready to enter the second grade at Stonewall Elementary School.
He is a fan of the musical group Queen, proud of his guinea pig and can reel off numbers like they are his own special language, including how tall the Statue of Liberty is.
Just so you know, the statue is 305 feet tall and visiting it recently while in New York City was one of Zach's three favorite days ever, "because it's so awesome."
His top favorite day was when he got his peach-and-cream colored guinea pig KC (or, as Zach jokingly refers to him on occasion, KFC). His third favorite was the day he attended the Queen and Adam Lambert concert in Auburn Hills, Mich., on July 12.
Zach and his parents, Brandon and Tina Pickard, were recently in New York City to film a segment of Katie Couric's talk show, Katie, which will air July 28. Zach wore yellow, and so did Couric.
The Couric show gave the family tickets to the concert after learning that, thanks to his father Brandon, Zach had become a big fan of Queen. Along with another family affected by the disorder, they appear on the show to discuss progeria research and the January death of Sam Berns, who lived 17 years with progeria.
Zach spent years in a Boston drug trial for progeria and continues to receive by mail the medication he was testing. He will not need to return to Boston for medical testing and care for another two years.
Zach has always been a whirl of activity, despite the physical restrictions that come with his disorder: inability to put on weight, brittle bones, baldness.While he is bright and constantly funny, he has not yet asked his parents about his condition, why he is different from other children.
"He has never asked," Tina Pickard said. "But he knows that's why he went to Boston. He knows that's why he doesn't have hair. ... We're not going to talk to him about it until he wants to."
Tina Pickard was told by a parent who had a son with progeria that sometimes children know more than they let on. That may be the case with Zach, she thinks.
Although he is tiny — his leg would fit between the circle an adult's thumb and forefinger make — Zach has the firecracker wit of a typical 7-year-old boy. His favorite books are the Captain Underpants series, by author and illustrator Dav Pilkey.
Reading — to be precise, on page 27, Zach points out — the slightly risqué insults contained in one of Pilkey's other books, The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung Fu Cavemen From the Future, soon has Zach collapsed in a fit of giggles, unable to speak. Captain Underpants books center on the things that elementary school students find irresistibly funny: bodily functions, stuffy school activities and mild anarchy.
Zach likes physical education in school because it's time out of the classroom, loves Red Lobster and Mexican food and has camped out with the Cub Scouts. He likes math better than reading, except Captain Underpants books.
The only things setting Zach apart from other 7 year olds are his size, flexibility and the distinctive pattern of prominent veins on his head, which is common with all progeria patients.
Zach has a tiny tinkling voice that enables him to do a spot-on imitation of the Sesame Street character Elmo, whom he also met in New York City.
The Pickards know that eventually they will have to discuss with Zach that he will never be big, may have health problems as he grows older and has to be careful with the full body-flips he does on the family couch.
Still, Tina Pickard said: "I don't have time to be sad. He keeps me on my toes and happy."