I am 35 years old and I was born with a unilateral cleft lip with bilateral clefts in the gums, an incomplete cleft palate, as well as a lower jaw deformity. I was also born with severe asthma and was tested for cystic fibrosis as a child.
The beginning stages of my life were spent with visits to The Hospital for Sick Children for surgeons to oversee my care in terms of eating, breathing and speaking. It was a very difficult time growing up due to all the hospital trips, but I am very thankful I was able to receive the care that I got and continue to get from the best surgeons and hospitals in the world.
I faced many challenges in school due to people not understanding what I had to overcome, and I was treated unkindly by many people. I was extremely shy and self-conscious, finding it difficult to make eye contact or hold a conversation.
My reconstructive facial and jaw surgery was a huge stepping stone in my life. It was determined that my teeth had poor enamel and were rapidly deteriorating which resulted in a full extraction of my teeth. Dental implants and a full set of upper and lower dentures were done at an approximate age of 20 which gave me a fantastic smile and opened up a whole new chapter of my life.
More recently, with the support of my close friends and family, I have become more confident to speak out about my difference. Supporting others through their struggles and letting them support me through mine helps me feel part of a greater whole.
I want to help create awareness for people with disabilities because we are truly an amazing group. I want to help others achieve every goal and reach every dream that they have. I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to go through life with a disability alone, like I had to. I want to be able to share my experiences and help others grow into the strong person that I know they are.
Having a disability has made me a better person, giver, and a fighter. I am a proud cleft survivor, and I can finally say that I wholeheartedly love life and I want others to love life too.
We can. We are capable. We are in this together.