By Josh Saunders
A ski resort worker with a genetic facial birth defect speaks out against strangers who treat her differently for how she looks.
Katie Whicker, 21, from Salt Lake Valley in Utah, USA, says she’s tired of people regularly accusing her of being ‘stupid’, speaking slowly to her and insulting her because of her appearance.
She was born with Treacher Collins Syndrome, which affects one in 50,000 people and stopped the bones growing and developing in her face, when she was in the womb.
Over the years, she’s had 56 surgeries to repair deficiencies in her face, to build her jaw using hip and rib bones, open a nasal passage and a g-tube fitted to help her receive enough nutrients.
Katie says people are regularly rude calling her ‘dumb’, once being asked if she was involved a ‘car accident’ and others doubting her mental capabilities.
She speaks out in a video to encourage others not to prejudge people with facial differences and hopes they will ask questions rather than making assumptions.
Katie said: “Because I have a physical difference people think I have a mental difference too, so I feel like I’m always explaining or proving people wrong.
“There are a few cruel people out there who I have to ignore and others who just don’t realise what they say can be hurtful.
“Because I have facial difference some people believe my mental capabilities are impaired also, they don’t ask questions they just assume and are most definitely mistaken
“I’ve had a person come up and say to my face ‘You shouldn’t work here, because you’re stupid’ which was unbelievable.
“That really hurt and while I know that person was reported, others have come up to me and asked if I should be working too.
“Maybe I’m not perfect looking but I’m mentally capable and not a bad person whatsoever.
“This is how I was born – my bones are deformed but I can talk, see, smell and taste; it’s just my bones that didn’t grow properly in the womb.
“I’d much rather people come up to me and ask questions, rather than just staring or assuming I’m stupid.
“Some parents try to stop their kids from asking questions but in honesty I much prefer it to people staring and wondering.
“I want to raise awareness of this issue and help others to realise that no matter what their problems are they can get through them.”
Katie was diagnosed with Treacher Collins Syndrome at birth and immediately had a tracheotomy fitted to help her breathe.
Due to the difficulties in her airway she struggled to make sound she received a one-way valve for her trach, allowing her to produce sounds in new ways and defying speech therapists predictions.
Katie said: “When I was born I couldn’t breathe through my nose, turning a blueish colour, due to my condition so had to have a tracheotomy put in to save my life.
“When I cried as a baby the noise was so airy that no one could hear me, so my parents had to watch my face to see if I was laughing or crying.
“I mainly used sign language to communicate up until the age of three, when I used both signing and speech.
“Then around the age of five, my parents tell me I couldn’t stop talking.”
During Katie’s time at school she defied the bullies who didn’t believe she was intelligent by beating them in exams and spelling contests in the classroom.
She added: “There were a few bullies who would ask what’s wrong with me.
“Then there were others who thought I must be stupid, until I beat them in the spelling bee and other tests.
“Overall, I surround myself with good people and try not to let people’s negative words affect me, the people who matter don’t judge me.”
During her most recent surgery in May, she had part of her hip bone implanted into her face requiring her to have her mouth wired shut for eight weeks.
Katie said: “I didn’t have all the bones in my face necessary to create a proper jaw, so they did a jaw distraction where they place pins in there, break the jaw and turn screws to create new bone.
“But even now I have to be careful not to break my jaw or chew on anything that could cause damage like an apple, steak or anything tough.
“My goal is to be able to eat whatever I want and over time I want to live a more normal life but if I can breathe, eat and talk I’ll consider myself lucky.”
You can follow Katie’s blog online: www.strollinmysoles.blogspot.com/