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A black and white photo of Sam, who has a cleft lip and palate - he's leaning against a railing

Sam’s story: “Don’t always judge a book by its cover”

Sam is a Changing Faces champion who has a cleft lip and palate. He and his mum Claire explain how they cope with people's reactions.

Sam was born with a cleft lip and palate. He had his first operation when he was just six months old and many more operations followed over the next few years. His mum, Claire, says she was determined that Sam would grow up confident, with the same aspirations and choices as anyone else.

Sam seemed to breeze through nursery school and made friends easily. Living in a small area and growing up with the same people definitely helped, says Claire. When Sam was in primary school he says he felt really happy; the school would send him emails when he was having operations and he had lots of friends.

As he got older some people would make remarks such as “pig nose” but Sam says that although he was bothered at first, he learned to ignore it and get on with his life. However when he went out with his family, he would often get stared at in the street and that made him angry. “I wanted to shout out ‘what are you staring at?’ but I realised that wouldn’t change anything.”

Claire admits she was terrified about the move to secondary school. “You live with the fear that he will come home and say ‘I’ve been bullied’ and that would break my heart.”

Sam loves to wear bright colours and he’s really not bothered by what people think.

Sam’s mum Claire

There have been a couple of incidents that have upset Sam, such as when a boy made fun of Sam’s teeth, showing him pictures of people with unusual teeth and saying it was him. He’s also had people call through the door of the classroom, “What’s wrong with your face!”

Claire says she knows when Sam has had a difficult day, “He’ll come home and be very tough, pretending that nothing is wrong but as he gets tired I can see that he’s not himself”.

Sam says one of the worst things is still getting stared at when he’s out but he feels he’s better able to cope with it now. “I want to say to those people ‘don’t always judge a book by its cover.’ It’s fine to look because I know I look different but please don’t keep on staring.”

Claire says she’ll sometimes notice a group of teenagers looking and giggling about Sam and her older daughter May gets very cross. “Sam loves to wear bright colours and he’s really not bothered by what people think, but May is very conscious of people looking and thinks I’m not protecting him enough, but I think he has to get on with his life and not be upset by what people think.”

Sam says reading Wonder has really helped, because it shows what it’s like to live with a facial difference and how people face challenges. Claire says Sam continues to amaze her every day and is a really confident teenager with a great group of friends. She says, “there is always the fear as he gets older of ‘what if’ and he is so gentle that he’d never hit back, but hopefully people will see past how he looks and see Sam for who he is.”

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