A tragic teenager who suffered from a premature aging disease that left her with the body of a 144-year-old has died at the age of just 18.
Ashanti Smith sadly passed away on Saturday, July 17, after living with the ultra-rare condition Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome, which saw her age eight years for every year of her life.
The teen's mum Phoebe Louise Smith paid tribute to her "brilliant and strong-willed" daughter, who she says refused to let the disease affect her "loud and beautiful" spirit.
Despite her body being the equivalent of a 144-year-old when she passed away, Ashanti was able to "live her life to the fullest" before telling her heartbroken mum "you've got to let me go".
The teen died with her mum, dad Shaine Wickens, 33, and a family friend, Kayleigh Cartwright, 25, by her side.
Phoebe, from Burgess Hill, West Sussex, said: "Ashanti's life was a joy. Even though progeria affected her mobility, it didn't affect anything else.
"She was a typical, stroppy 18-year-old and I loved everything about her. She was brilliant, she was gobby. She spoke her mind and everyone knew it.
"It didn't affect her heart, her willpower, or the way she felt about herself – she felt beautiful every day. I made sure of it every day.
"Everyone loved and adored that little girl. She touched their hearts so much with her willpower.
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"[On the day she died] she was walking around, having KFC, walking around the park – absolutely fine. Then it came on sudden and it was about half an hour.
"She struggled but she said 'Mum, I love you. You've got to let me go'."
Mum-of-four Pheobe has now shared details of her daughter's funeral, which she hopes will feature four white horses, feathers, Pride flags, and BTS memorabilia – as Ashanti was a huge fan of the K-Pop band.
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Her friends have launched a JustGiving page to help crowdfund for the "biggest, brightest send-off ever" – vowing the plan of a party to celebrate her life.
Family friend Kayleigh Cartwright, 25, who was with Phoebe when her daughter passed away last weekend, said: "It was very upsetting.
"She had been feeling a bit sick. Shaine brought her home because she said she wanted her mum, [then her condition worsened].
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"Her condition didn't affect her [mentally] at all. She was just, normal. She was like any other child. To be with her, she was just like everybody else.
"[On the outside] she was 100 and on the inside, she was 18. [With the money donated] we're hoping to pay for Ashanti's funeral, for the horses and to go straight to the funeral directors.
"Me and Phoebe were with her when she died, and Shaine."
Her life has been compared to the 2008 film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, based on the 1922 F Scott Fitzgerald story of the same name starring Brad Pitt as a man who ages in reverse.
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