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This elderly woman with Down syndrome is defying the odds. Here's her story
A British woman with Down syndrome who just celebrated her 75th birthday is believed to be the oldest living female in the world to have the genetic disorder. - photo by Billy Hallowell
A British woman with Down syndrome who just celebrated her 75th birthday is believed to be the oldest living female in the world to have the genetic disorder.

Frances Gillett's survival story has made the rounds in recent days, with reporting she "knows how to beat the odds."

After all, Gillett wasn't expected to live past her 20s when she was born in 1941, but she has survived decades beyond that benchmark.

The National Down Syndrome Society notes that life expectancy for people with Down syndrome is now 60 years, meaning that Gillett is 15 years past that average age of length of life.

While that's lower than the 78.8-year average for Americans overall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it's a major improvement from past figures. Over the years, people with Down syndrome have been living longer and longer.

A look at past numbers plainly shows this dynamic, as people with Down syndrome lived, on average, to age 10 in 1960, to age 25 in 1983 and to age 47 in 2007. In Gillett's case, her longevity is particularly noteworthy considering that she has survived both breast cancer and tuberculosis in the past 12 years.

Her friends recently organized a surprise party at Holly Cottage, a home where she has lived for the past 20 years, to celebrate her July 31 birthday.

"From the era when she was born, to actually achieving this amazing age, it's unbelievable, really," Wayne Bent, manager of Holly Cottage, told "We just didn't want it to be another birthday that comes and (goes). We wanted to make it a day to celebrate."

Bent went on to say that Gillett has become "more than a resident" over the years and that "she is like family," noting that her interests are music and needlework, though her eyes aren't what they once were.

Others also took to the internet to celebrate Gillett's birthday, with A Mighty Girl offering up a compassionate message on the group's Facebook page.

"Happy 75th birthday to Frances Gillett the world's oldest known woman with Down syndrome!" the message read, in part, continuing with information about educational resources to help the public better understand the disorder.

Others weighed in, too, with a spokesperson for the Down Syndrome Association telling The Daily Mail that everyone at the organization "wishes Frances a very happy birthday."

According to anti-abortion news site Live Action, Gillett isn't alone in reaching a higher age, despite having Down syndrome, as a number of other individuals with the genetic disorder have also advanced into their 70s and 80s.

The site noted that a woman named Dollie Grissom from Oklahoma is 74, and that Joe Sanderson of England turned 80 in March. A man named Bert Holbrook from Minnesota died at age 83 in 2012 and was believed to be the person who lived longest with Down syndrome.

Down syndrome is a topic that has been given increased attention of late, with A&E's show "Born This Way" offering a window into the lives and experiences of those who have the disorder.

Sandra McElwee, whose 22-year-old son, Sean, appears in the series, recently told "The Church Boys" podcast that she believes the show is "going to be a game changer for people with Down syndrome."

"The biggest problem people with Down syndrome and any disability have is other people's fears," McElwee said. "And the way you remove fear is by providing information."
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