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Math wiz born with spinal muscular atrophy is now headed to MIT

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Posted at 9:20 AM, Jul 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-16 10:44:31-04

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — A high school graduate in San Diego, who has never been able to walk due to a genetic disease, has now earned a spot at MIT for his exceptional ability in mathematics.

His success was achieved with the support of family, caregivers, and a positive spirit.

It definitely takes a village,” said 18-year-old Ben Lou, joined by his parents and sister for an interview with KGTV. “I've never walked or stood. Basically, I require assistance for all daily tasks of living, including like eating or using the restroom.”

Ben was born with a genetic condition known as spinal muscular atrophy. The disease is progressive with no known cure.

Ben’s mother, Jenny Huang, has devoted herself full-time to her son's care.

“I'm trying to do as much as I can to prevent things from happening,” said Jenny.

Keeping her son healthy is a critical priority, as any illness can be life-threatening.

“I have 25% lung capacity, actually, more like 22%,” explained Ben. “That means with some amount of congestion, my oxygen levels can plummet, and then I can barely breathe.”

It's a fact that has his mother emphasizing priorities.

For me,” said Jenny, “it's like, firstly you have to face the reality. And you can't work as hard as other people because the disease is progressive. So, you have to work smart. And first, always set your health as your top priority.”

But as she has worked to maintain her son's physical health, Jenny has also fostered his homeschooling. And Ben has excelled.

“I did some calculus in 4th grade,” recalled Ben.

It was two years earlier when he was in the second grade and took a math proficiency test and scored well above other kids his age. In 2014, at age 11, he would win a gold medal at the World Math Team competition in China and in high school, a perfect 800 math score on the SAT.

Math competitions are more like problem-solving,” said Ben. “And problem-solving is important because it's applicable to everything, not just math.”

Unable to participate in sports, Ben says that may have something to do with his math ability as he’s more committed to study.

“He has 3 or 4 hours each day for study,” said Jenny, “So, when we stretch, he will listen to the audiobooks, and we will discuss something. And when he gets up, he sometimes is doing the math and sometimes other topics.”

Ben’s Father, Xiangdong Lou, says he and Ben enjoy deep conversations about the structure of the universe. And he’s very grateful to his wife for her dedication to their son.

“I really appreciate my wife. She is incredible,” said Xiangdon.

The dedication reminds him of when he and Jenny were young college students together.

“I remember she telling me, the teacher would say, how can you do better? You can always do better. She applied that to Ben. It was so impressive actually.”

Jenny credits her son's ability to study on his own. But as Ben said at the beginning of this story: it definitely takes a village.

“I'm just very grateful for everyone,” said Ben. “How much they're sacrificing for me really.”

And he is determined to make the most of the life he's been given.

“There's no use worrying about something that could happen later. Because the more you worry, the less time you have to fulfill your dreams, explore the world, and basically live.”

Ben will begin MIT’s online classes this fall and later plans to attend in person. His mother will be going to Massachusetts with him to attend to his needs.

This story was originally published by Jim Patton at KGTV.