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  • Cleft and Craniofacial Center

    Supported by the Inzalaco Family

    Sarah Woolworth: If We Were All the Same, the World Would Be Boring

    My name is Sarah Woolworth. I’m 21 years old, and I was born with Treacher Collins syndrome as well as a soft cleft palate. I have had four major surgeries and about 11 or so minor surgeries. Treacher Collins syndrome is a craniofacial disorder that affects facial development including the eyes, ears, nose, and jaw. Some symptoms include a cleft lip or palate, breathing problems, and hearing loss. I am not the only one in my family who has it; my mom and my sister have it as well.

    Treacher Collins varies from mild to severe. I am on the mild side where I have no open ear canals, slightly slanted eyes, and an underdeveloped jaw that required me to have jaw surgery once I was fully grown. From the age of 3 months old up until June 23, 2015, I had a tracheostomy tube, which is a breathing tube that goes down your windpipe. I also wear hearing aids.

    My life was different from that of other kids as I went to more doctors’ appointments than I could count on both hands and feet. It was fairly easy to make friends because I was myself and nice, plus in my experience people don’t really judge you if you’re the first one to go up and introduce yourself. My parents also made the decision to put my older brother and me in charter schools, so I went to school with the same people from second grade up until high school, which made it easier as far as meeting new people and bullying went. That doesn’t necessarily mean I didn’t get bullied or harassed at all during elementary/middle school.

    As I stated earlier, making friends was fairly easy because I was nice. Most of the friends I made when I was younger are still around now. My best friend Anna always liked me for who I am. I think the thing we bonded over was that we’re both different as she is from another country, and we became friends over an Oreo cookie in tenth-grade world history class. I honestly can’t imagine a world where we aren’t friends. I hang out with her more than any of my other friends. Even though we are both busy with work and college, we still make time to hang out and have lunch together or go see a movie then get Starbucks afterward. Neither of us really cared that the other was different. We bonded over things we both liked, and through the six years we’ve been friends, we’ve impacted each other in a good way.

    If we were all the same, the world would be boring.

    -Sarah Woolworth, Barrow Cleft and Craniofacial Patient

    My mom taught me to have thick skin and not take what people say to heart. This is easier said than done. Growing up, I learned that if I kept a positive attitude and tried to look on the bright side of things, then good things will happen. When I was kind to people, it made me feel good, and if I wasn’t nice to someone, I didn’t feel great afterward. If people were nice to me, I felt good, and when they weren’t, I just had to try not to take it to heart. Now I just do my best to take what any mean person says with a grain of salt. Again, that’s easier said than done.

    The first time I actually talked about Treacher Collins syndrome was in middle school to my homeroom class because I honestly felt like I should educate myself about my genetic disorder. I made it a personal project of mine and decided to educate my classmates as well. So I did my research and took notes, and then I presented the information to my homeroom class. By doing this, I also learned a little about myself. I learned that looking different from everyone else isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a good thing because if we were all the same, the world would be boring. I also learned that some middle schoolers don’t really care about learning really big medical words, but some of them actually did pay attention to the presentation. I was only 13, and one of my teachers told me later on that I was very eloquent for my age.

    The first time I talked about the “Wonder” book and my life was in 2015 to a classroom of fifth graders, which was more intimidating to me than presenting a final project or taking a final exam for any of my college classes. They were very receptive, and I am glad I did it. I look forward to every opportunity I have now to talk about the book and about being kind.

    There is a quote I like in “Wonder” from the 365 days of precepts that relates to life in general, I think: “Kindness is like snow. It beautifies everything.”- Kahlil Gibran

    About Barrow Neurological Institute

    Since our doors opened as a regional specialty center in 1962, we have grown into one of the premier destinations in the world for neurology and neurosurgery. Our experienced, highly skilled, and comprehensive team of neurological specialists can provide you with a complete spectrum of care–from diagnosis through outpatient neurorehabilitation–under one roof. Barrow Neurological Institute: Discover. Educate. Heal.