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Millie, 6/, and dad, Carl smiling at camera.

Carl & Millie’s Story – “Every one of us is special and unique”

Millie struggled to deal with people’s comments and reactions. Since working with Changing Faces, she’s grown in confidence and feels much happier.

My 10-year-old daughter Millie has facial palsy because the nerve on the right side of her face didn’t develop during her mum Tracey’s pregnancy.  This was noticed at birth and Millie was referred to a fantastic consultant at Southmead hospital, Bristol. For many years, it was purely observation to see how her face developed over the years and if any treatment would be necessary.

Millie’s visible difference is noticeable when she smiles as the right side of the mouth doesn’t move up. She can’t completely close her right eye lid either. From birth, we had concerns because Millie couldn’t close her eye fully when sleeping.  The consultant suggested using tape to help close the eye at night, which we didn’t need to do as Millie adjusted to the condition and naturally rolls back her eye when she goes to sleep. This hasn’t presented Millie with any issues and her eye health is generally good.

When Millie first started school, children did notice she had a visible difference.  Millie was repeatedly asked, ‘Why can’t you smile properly?’; Millie told us she was being asked about her smile so we wrote to her teacher explaining the condition, as we had been apprehensive about how other children may react. Since then, there haven’t been any further incidents at school.

I recall one time when a family friend, who we don’t see on a regular basis, asked me, “What’s wrong with your daughter?” My response was simply, “There’s nothing wrong with my daughter.” I then asked, “What are you referring to?” This led to me simply explaining how the nerve hadn’t developed on the right side of her face. When people ask questions, that’s always the reply we give.

Millie had been under the care of a consultant from birth and has been aware of what treatment options are available if she wants to pursue them. These were discussed in detail with the team at Great Ormond Street hospital face-to-face, as well as on Zoom due to Covid. All options were openly discussed with Millie and with this, as a family, we were all aware of what could be addressed with surgery, which appeared daunting to both Millie, her friends, Tracey and myself. Following the discussions, we agreed, as a family to go ahead with surgery in the hope of avoiding any appearance-related bullying further down the line when children can get a bit nastier and more insensitive with their remarks.

Left: Millie, Carl & Tracy looking down at the camera. Right: Millie & Carl dressed up for a special occasion

Ten-year-old Millie was born with facial palsy

Millie’s first operation took a nerve from her leg and placed it into her left cheek. Over the year, the nerve will grow onto the right side of her face. Following the first operation, Millie started having concerns about having the second operation and managing her feelings around scarring. The second operation will take muscle tissue from her armpit and place it in her right cheek and connect it to the nerve muscle. This will be followed by two years of physiotherapy so that the muscle and nerve work together to enable Millie’s smile to appear symmetrically.

Due to Millie having reservations, her physiotherapist suggested Changing Faces may help Millie to build her confidence and manage any worries around her upcoming operation. We took their advice and checked the Changing Faces website to see what services were on offer that could help Millie. The key areas of interest to Millie focused on “Worries and concerns”, “Cope better with difficult feelings” and “Build self-esteem and confidence”, which were listed on the website as part of their counselling offer for young children.

The support Changing Faces provided has helped Millie build up her confidence to talk about and show her scars to others.

Being able to show her scars without any hesitation and not feeling under pressure has been a huge success factor for Millie. The sessions also made her feel happier and gave her the confidence to explain why her smile is different.

Millie has encountered scenarios where she has had unwanted stares and comments and, in the past, she would just walk away.  Since working with Changing Faces, she is now able to handle this by saying, ‘I don’t want to speak about it,’ or by simply changing the subject when asked.

We’re very proud of Millie adopting the new skills she has been taught through Changing Faces. Millie now discusses this with other people, sharing how Changing Faces have had a positive effect and helped her build confidence.

I asked Millie what change she would like to see for the visible difference community, and she had this to say:

“I would like for there to be no bullying in the world, and more care and understanding from people who haven’t been in this kind of situation.”

I think Millie’s response sums it up quite nicely.

If you’re the parent of a child with a visible difference, do go to Changing Faces for help if you feel worried or need advice. They have a great team and lots of useful services that you can access. Lastly, I’d just say to remember that each and every one of us is special and unique in our own way.

Profile of a woman in an office environment, wearing a headset and smiling

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