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‘Wonder’ Movie Puts Spotlight on Barrow Patients’ Real Life Journeys

For the hundreds of patients who come to the Barrow Cleft and Craniofacial Center in Phoenix, the new movie “Wonder” is a relevant and compelling story that vividly reflects many of their own lives.

“Wonder” is interwoven with many important themes, including courage, anti-bullying, and kindness. They play out in the experiences of the movie’s main character, August “Auggie” Pullman, a 10-year-old boy born with a facial difference he refers to as mandibulofacial dystosis, more commonly known as Treacher Collins syndrome. It is a genetic disorder that most often affects the cheek bones, jaw, chin, and ears. Many patients with this syndrome face years of treatment and many surgeries.

Courage

Children born with facial differences often undergo numerous surgeries. Hospitals, doctors, and nurses become a way of life for them. To face these surgeries, children must have enormous courage.

Jason Clark, 46, is a Barrow patient who was born with Treacher Collins syndrome. Starting around age 9, Clark recalls having many big, scary surgeries that required a lot of recovery time. He went on to play Little League baseball and participated in soccer and track in middle and high school. But he found that some coaches were afraid to put him in the game; they lacked the courage that Jason had shown.

“This group—those with Treacher Collins syndrome—is very special,” says Jason, now an executive in the medical device and surgical instrument markets. “They go through many surgeries and recover. They endure comments from the public. The thing I want people to know is that we will all succeed. It’s going to be twice the amount of work, but it pays off.”

Anti-bullying

In the movie, Auggie faces bullying. That is a reality for children who look different than their peers. Barrow patient Sarah Woolworth, 22, became accustomed to hurtful comments from classmates. They added pain for a child who underwent four major surgeries, more than a dozen minor procedures, and required a breathing tube from 3 months old until just a few years ago.

However, Sarah was also courageous and chose not to take the comments to heart. With the support of her family – her mother and sister were also born with the condition – she embraced a positive outlook in life and shares it as a classroom speaker.

“The first time I actually talked about Treacher Collins syndrome was in middle school, and I learned that looking different from everyone else isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” says Sarah, who is studying to become a special education teacher. “It’s a good thing because if we all looked the same the world would be boring.”

Kindness

One of the “Wonder” movie’s social media hashtags is “ChooseKind.” Marieli Cruzado and Richard Russell made that choice as soon as they learned that their baby would be born with a cleft lip and palate. They understood that having a child with facial differences would be a big challenge, but they also believed that kindness would help them overcome any obstacles. And so it has.

Today, their child, Joaquin, is a happy and healthy 2-year-old who loves to talk, sing, and play in the water. “I hope the same as every parent: happiness, love, and success in anything he wants to do,” Marieli says. “I hope he can help others who have craniofacial differences and that he can inspire kindness.”

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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.