(SANTA ANA, Calif.) — Being three-feet-two-inches tall doesn’t stop Ryan Berger, 34, from taking on crime in Santa Ana, Califorinia.
Though he lives with a rare genetic disorder that leaves his bones brittle and requires him to use a motorized wheel chair, Berger has followed in his father’s footsteps by joining local law enforcement.
Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a genetic disorder affecting the bones and connective tissue, prevents Berger from physically making arrests, but he does everything else an assistant detective might do — from questioning suspects to testifying in court.
Berger hails from a “cop family.” His father John Berger is a retired detective for the Santa Ana Police Department and his brother, Mark Berger, currently works with the Anaheim PD. Though he didn’t originally intend to get into law enforcement (he studied computer science), Ryan Berger has been drawn into the family business.
“It keeps me off the streets and out of trouble,” Berger jokes.
The Santa Ana PD made a few adjustments to office equipment to accommodate Berger, but otherwise, he does “everything most able-bodied people can do,” says his supervisor Sgt. Troy Guidry. “Mentally is where he’s so tough — his attitude with life. That’s why he fits in so well,” Guidry adds.
Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease, affects anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 Americans, though the majority of cases are not as severe as Berger’s. More than half the cases of are the mild type 1, which includes bone fragility, slightly shorter stature and joints that are prone to dislocating, according to the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation. Many cases are so mild as to go undiagnosed.
For all types, the disease is characterized by a decrease in the body’s production of collagen, which leads to varying levels of fragile bones, joint looseness, and other complications.
For those like Berger, who have type 3, symptoms are more severe and include a very small stature, incredibly fragile bones, and discoloration of the teeth. Many patients with type 3 have a shortened life expectancy; either from lung problems or to disability-related accidents, says Dr. Jay Shapiro, director of the Bone and Osteogenesis Imperfecta Program at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore.
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