Appearing in the Beyond My Face awareness video for AboutFace was very meaningful for me because the message to see beyond my face is more than just a message. It was important enough to affect the course of my life.
I was born with a cleft lip and palate in 1987, and my birthplace, El Salvador, was in the middle of a long civil war. I was fortunate to be adopted by Canadian parents. When I was brought to Canada at three months old, I weighed barely more than five pounds and was severely dehydrated due to a lack of nourishment and medical treatment.
After undergoing a regimen of special feedings, I was strong enough to have my first surgery at six months – the first of almost 30 reconstructive surgeries I have undergone.
Early on in school, I was diagnosed with a non-verbal learning disability in addition to my cleft lip and palate. While it was sometimes lonely, I was able to connect with other kids with facial differences through AboutFace community events. I also received support from many of my teachers through school and was able to graduate high school and eventually receive my certification as a healthcare worker.
It wasn’t until six years ago that my world turned upside down. At the time, I was working in a nursing home near my home in Victoria, B.C. The ongoing difficulty I had with my working memory, which had always been attributed to my learning disability, led to workplace issues. I was given the opportunity through my union to undergo private psych-educational testing that was more comprehensive than I had ever received before. I was called in to discuss the results and was so grateful to have my mom, my biggest champion and best friend, by my side. The diagnosis: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
Suddenly, a lot of things made sense. The flattened cheekbones and facial features that were attributed to my cleft lip and palate can also be characteristic features of FASD. The professionals who had worked so hard over the years to treat my facial difference had not looked “beyond my face” to another potential medical condition.
Today, there is a lot more known about fetal alcohol disorder and more being learned every day. I have now connected with members of the FASD community, and am learning to ask for support, set new goals and integrate this new world into my existing one. I am also proud to advocate on behalf of those of us in the facial difference community who have a secondary difference. The sharing of our stories will lead to more resources and greater support.
I am successful in life because of these challenges.
I am empathetic to others with differences because I too am different.
I am motivated to use my voice as a platform for change.