RI leap year babies stay forever young

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GLOCESTER, R.I. (WPRI) — Kathleen Wikstrom’s prognosis wasn’t good. Facing a diagnosis with a rare genetic disorder called familial adenomatous polyposis, or FAP, her doctors told her she had just months to live.

That was in 2013.

“The guy upstairs ain’t ready for me and the guy downstairs is afraid I’m going to convert everybody,” she said with a smile. “I’m going to stay right here.”

Wikstrom is celebrating her 68th birthday on Saturday and she’s extremely grateful. But, like so many others who share her Feb. 29 birthday, Wilkstrom has found a secret way to stay youthful.

“I’m celebrating my 17th birthday,” she said. “I’m an old lady. But I’m 17 at heart!”

Leap years come about once every four years to keep our calendar year in sync with earth’s revolution around the sun, which takes a bit longer than 365 days. This year, folks who were born on leap day have the chance to mark their actual birthday instead of celebrating it on Feb. 28 or March 1.

Kayla Park said her birthday always elicited jokes and jabs about not needing to buy her birthday presents. It also requires a lot of explanation, especially to her 6-year-old daughter, who doesn’t understand why mom is turning 7.

“She doesn’t believe me, so that’s still a discussion,” Park said with a chuckle.

Rose Broccoli-Ricci said she grew up being teased by her eight siblings.

“They would say, ‘You don’t have a birthday!’ I cried and ran to dad and told him,” Broccoli-Ricci recalled. “He said, ‘For that, now you have two birthdays: Feb. 28 and March 1.’ My heart was full!”

Her father even penned a poem about her special birthday: “Leap Year day I can’t forget / For God sent me the most beautiful Rose yet / From year to year she’s made me content / I thank the Lord for this blessed Event.”

According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, 746 Rhode Islanders have been born on Feb. 29 since 1940. Assuming they’re all living, they make up just .07 percent of the state’s population.

Bryant Amaral likes that his birthday is so uncommon.

“I get to tell all my friends I get to stay young!” he said. Amaral is turning 12 on Saturday.

His parents surprised him with a big gift this year: a dream trip to Barcelona to see his soccer idol, Lionel Messi, play a match. The surprise left him wide-eyed.

“Really?” he asked his mother, Dayhana.

“Really!” she replied.

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