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Memorial Garden To Honor Sam Berns, Foxborough Teen Known For His Fight Against Rare Disease

Sam Berns, who died in 2014 at age 17 from complications of the rare genetic disease progeria, was known for his philosophy for living a happy life and how he didn't let the obstacles presented by his disease stop him from achieving his dreams. (Courtesy Fine Films)
Sam Berns, who died in 2014 at age 17 from complications of the rare genetic disease progeria, was known for his philosophy for living a happy life and how he didn't let the obstacles presented by his disease stop him from achieving his dreams. (Courtesy Fine Films)
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Foxborough High School's class of 2015 is building a memorial garden to honor a classmate who died last year from complications of a rare genetic disease.

Sam Berns, who had progeria, a disease marked by premature aging, gained renown when a TEDx Talk he gave in 2013 went viral. In the talk, Berns discussed his philosophy for living a happy life and how he didn't let the obstacles presented by his disease stop him from achieving his dreams.

"Even though there are many obstacles in my life, I don't want people to feel bad for me," he said in the talk. "I don't think about these obstacles all the time, and I'm able to overcome most of them anyway."

The memorial garden will be located by the entrance to the Sam Berns Community Field — a playing field adjacent to Foxborough High that was named in honor of Sam after his 2014 death at the age of 17.

The garden will feature a walkway in the shape of an S — for Sam — surrounded by raised planting beds. There will also be granite benches, a flag pole and a bronze plaque with a drawing by one of Sam's classmates.

"It's a way to give tribute to an entire family that did something good for the town by sharing their story and Sam's life with us."

Foxborough Selectman Jim DeVellis

Foxborough Selectman Jim DeVellis says that while the class of 2015 came up with the idea for the garden and did the fundraising, it has turned into a wider community effort.

"It's 100 percent kind of community grown, to kind of embrace Sam, his philosophy and his family, and a nice gift from the class of 2015 to the town," he told WBUR.

DeVellis says several local contractors are donating time and materials to help make the garden happen.

Before his death, Sam was a member of the high school marching band, played baseball and was an Eagle Scout. "He put himself out there all the time," DeVellis said.

DeVellis said that while the garden is a tribute to Sam's life and legacy, it is also a thank you to his parents.

"It's a way to give tribute to an entire family that did something good for the town by sharing their story and Sam's life with us," he said.

Sam's parents, Leslie Gordon and Scott Berns, who are both doctors, founded the Progeria Research Foundation shortly after Sam's diagnosis. In 2012, the foundation published a study that revealed the first experimental drug to treat the disease.

In 2013, HBO released a documentary about Sam and his family's search for a cure. The exposure brought greater recognition to the condition, which causes musculoskeletal degeneration, cardiovascular problems and other symptoms associated with aging.

The memorial garden is expected to be dedicated around Thanksgiving.

With reporting from The Associated Press

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