By Kathy Walsh
DENVER (CBS4) – The movie “Wonder”, tells the story of a young boy born with severe facial deformities. It hits close to home for a researcher at the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine. Francis Smith, Ph.D. has the same rare disorder as the boy in the movie.
“I have Treacher Collins syndrome,” said Smith.
It is an inherited condition in which some bones and tissues in the face aren’t developed. Smith was born without eye sockets, cheekbones or ears. He had a severe cleft palate and needed a tracheotomy to breathe.
“I was not expected to survive, much less lead a normal life,” Smith told CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh.
Smith’s parents abandoned him at birth. He spent months in neonatal intensive care at a hospital in Indiana. Three years later, Smith was adopted by a couple he calls “saints”.
“A wonderful family who also adopted ten other children with special needs,” Smith said.
But growing up was never easy. Smith endured twenty reconstructive surgeries. Bullying, especially in middle school, was relentless.
“That included teasing and physical abuse and emotional abuse,” he said. “Only my family and my faith in God carried me through.”
“Do you ever say ‘why me?'” Walsh asked.
“I may have thought that way back, but now I realize I’m here for a purpose,” Smith said.
That purpose includes researching the mutations that cause craniofacial defects, such as his own, and reaching out. Smith wrote a foreward for the book “Wonder”, now a movie about a boy with the same syndrome. He has testified before Congress and has become friends with Cher, who starred in the movie `Mask’ about a boy with a similar disorder. Cher has led annual retreats for children and families with the disorders.
Smith can now hear with special hearing aids. He is an accomplished classical pianist and violinist. They are remarkable talents for a man born deaf, but Smith is a remarkable man.
Smith was expected to die at birth. Forty-two years later, he is attuned to the fact that, while there has been much pain, he is a role model still realizing his potential.