By KATE PICKLES FOR MAILONLINE
At 19 years old, life for Daryle Koltay is harder than for most his age.
He is unable to express emotion, a typical teenage trait some might argue, but for Daryle his adolescence is not to blame.
He struggles with balance and is easily disorientated, is unable to dress himself, cannot read or write and requires round-the-clock care.
Daryle was born with the rare birth defect microcephaly – a condition that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads, and development problems.
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Growing up, few people in Daryle’s world will have been aware of the condition, which remains incurable.
But, in recent months the world’s eyes have been opened to the serious illness, after growing concerns it could be caused by the mosquito-borne Zika virus.
Since the virus emerged in South America in 2014, scientists in Brazil in particular, noted a surge in the number of babies being born with microcephaly.
Such is the weight of concern over the, as yet unproven link, the World Health Organisation was moved to declare the Zika outbreak ravaging the Americas, an international public health emergency.
While doctors cannot be certain of what caused Daryle’s condition, since the emergence of evidence linking Zika with the birth defect, his family have questioned if it was to blame.
Daryle, who has a mental age of seven, said: ‘Growing up with microcephaly is hard and it doesn’t get better when you get older, it gets worse and worse,’ he said.
His mother Lisa, from St. Petersburg, Florida, said she did suffer mosquito bites while she was pregnant with her son.
The 48-year-old said her son’s struggle with microcephaly, highlights the dangers of the Zika virus and the devastating effect it could have.
She said she was distraught when doctors warned something was wrong with her son.
‘I only knew something was wrong when the paediatrician told me about microcephaly – they said he could possibly become blind, deaf and potentially paralysed,’ she said.
‘I was devastated – I didn’t know what to think or say.
‘I just couldn’t stop crying but I knew this was how he was supposed to be.
‘I was told to watch out for things like vomiting, passing out, seizures and to make sure his brain was not growing and putting pressure on his skull.’
Daryl Koltay, pictured aged six months, was born with a head circumference of just 12 inches. He now has a mental age of seven
Daryle Koltay aged seven with his mother Lisa, father Patrick and sister Shawna, is now putting together special kits to help those affected by the Zika virus
Babies with microcephaly are born with smaller than normal heads, and the condition is also linked to a reduction in brain volume, often leading to intellectual disabilities, speech impairment and behavioural issues.
While scientists are increasingly becoming convinced of the link between Zika and the birth defect, known causes of micropcephaly include a range of factors.
In many cases the condition is genetic, while in others environmental factors play a part.
Prenatal viral infections such as rubella or herpes have been found to cause the condition, while maternal alcohol use and hypertensive disorders are also considered risk factors.
Since the current outbreak, Daryle’s family have debated whether his condition could have been caused by Zika.
Mrs Koltay, who has two other healthy children, admits she has never left her native Florida, raising questions over whether the virus is to blame.
While 73 people living in the state have been confirmed as suffering Zika during this outbreak, all but one are in people who have travelled to areas where the virus has been reported.
The remaining case is in a person who was infected via sexual transmission, and whose partner had travelled to an affected region.
Prior to the current outbreak, Zika virus was only detected in parts of South East Asia and Africa, and no cases of a person becoming infected via mosquito bite on US soil had been reported.
‘My pregnancy was full term and felt normal but I got bitten by mosquitos a number of times,’ she said.
‘I did develop a rash on top of my feet and I felt ill.
‘There are suspicions that it was Zika virus but it’s still a complete mystery what caused this condition in Daryle.’
In order to detract from her son’s condition, Mrs Koltay recalls how she even tried to cut his hair in a specific style to make his head appear bigger.
Lisa Koltay said she would cut her son Daryle’s hair into a style that would disguise his small head, caused by microcephaly, to stop others looking at him
Daryle’s mother said she was distraught when doctors warned her something might be wrong with her baby son. She said: ‘I only knew something was wrong when the paediatrician told me about microcephaly – they said he could possibly become blind, deaf and potentially paralysed. I was devastated’
‘I gave him a mushroom haircut to add volume to his head so that people don’t stare at him all the time,’ she said.
‘The hardest part is trying to educate people and get them to realise that they shouldn’t make fun of him.’
The family are now raising money to send vital supplies to women and children who are suffering from the impact of the devastating virus – which is primarily transmitted by mosquito bite.
They are looking for sponsorship to send kits to mothers in the countries affected including nappies, vitamins, medication and bug repellent to people in Zika-hit communities like Recife, north-east Brazil.
‘He’s a true fighter and a tough cookie. I’m extremely proud of him – he has come a long way,’ she said.
‘He has ambitions just like anybody else and wants a purpose in life – I believe this is his purpose.’