In Chad's own words
Mount Vernon, Iowa
For a long time, I cringed every time I saw this photo. It embarrassed me. It made me angry. It made me sad. It made me bitter. I would never, ever think of showing other people this photo.
Now I look at the very same photo, and it brings me a far different set of emotions. A friend of mine recently wrote how sometimes life’s hardships turn out to be the biggest blessings. I have become a huge believer in this.
As a child, I was teased and bullied by classmates. Countless bedtimes were spent in tears, wishing I could just be “normal.” Kids can be cruel. I focused so much on the cruelty of a few, the blatant stares, and the quick glances away when I made eye contact with people.
But life brings perspective. Now when I look back at my childhood, I don’t think of those cruel, awkward moments. I don’t think about the handful of kids who tormented me at recess, or even through high school, simply for looking different. Instead, what I remember are the countless acts of kindness by my fellow classmates and amazing teachers. I think about the awesome friends I made who liked me for me. They didn’t see me as any different based on a few scars on my face. I didn’t fully appreciate them at the time. But over the years, I am a believer that kindness wins out. To the many, many classmates at Wilton, I truly thank you.
As a kid, or even as an adult, it is easy to obsess over the negative things in life – inflating them to unrealistic proportions. In doing so, you lose sight of so many amazing blessings.
I look back at this photo and I realize I would not be the person I am today had I not had to overcome some of the obstacles it provided. It made me stronger. It gave me a better sense of empathy. It taught me to face my challenges head-on and not avoid them. I look back at how far I’ve come instead of how far I have to go. I feel as though it has made me a better parent.
I look at this picture now, and I look less at the newborn child who happened to have an undeveloped lip. Instead, I look more at the adoring older sister who has ALWAYS loved me unconditionally. I look back at this picture, and I think of University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital – my second home, as I called it during my childhood. At the time, I dreaded having surgeries. Every single year of my childhood: Surgeries. Checkups. Recovery. Pain. Only to return to school to be made fun of by fellow students. I convinced myself that I hated every second of my time at the hospital.
As I look back now, I think of the amazing doctors, nurses, speech pathologists, and staff that I had the pleasure of meeting. They all left an imprint on my life. I can remember so many of them by name still to this day. As I watch the Kinnick Wave to the children at UI Stead Family Children's Hospital, it gives me chills. I remember growing up, knowing I wanted to somehow be involved in making a difference for cleft kids and their families in the future, whether as a surgeon, speech pathologist, or mentor of some sort. I love what I do now, but I can’t help feeling a sense of regret not going down that path in one way or another. Maybe there is still an opportunity for me somewhere to make a difference for a young family dealing with the same sort of circumstances my young parents dealt with after I was born. If you are a parent of a child with cleft and just need to talk to someone who has been through it, don’t hesitate to contact me.
As a parent I now look at this same photo and am able to put myself in my parents’ shoes, seeing things from their perspective. It amazes me how they were able to do and say just the right things. Yeah, I had some bad days growing up. But now I put myself in their shoes, and realize just how hard it must have been to hold me as I cried, hearing how other kids made fun of me; trying to find the right words to help ease my pain. For as much as I hated having surgery, I now realize how hard it must have been for them to hand over their child time and time again, putting their trust in the hands of the doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists and staff. To keep putting their faith in God that everything will be okay. I could never thank them enough.
I look at this photo, and it reminds me how different my life would be had I not been born this way. At the time of my birth, my parents and sister lived in the small town of Melrose in southern Iowa. They decided to uproot our family and move to Wilton in order to be closer to UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
It’s funny how life works. Had I not been born with a cleft, my parents never would have moved to Wilton – the small Iowa town where I met my amazing wife. Without her, I wouldn't have been blessed with my two daughters, my everything. It just would not have happened. It makes me realize that all of life’s moments are tiny pieces of a gigantic puzzle. Sure, some of those puzzle pieces are incredibly painful at the time, but without them, the puzzle would be incomplete.
So I wanted to share this photo with you. The same photo I refused to look at for the longest time, let alone show someone else. This is an example of something that caused me immense pain at the time, but has turned out to be one of my life’s biggest gifts. The scars that once haunted me now give me an enormous sense of pride. I just wanted to share my story in hopes of delivering a bit of hope and positivity to someone who just might need it.