By Ben Wheeler
THIS INSPIRING woman was born with a cleft palate and cruelly taunted by school bullies for her appearance but is now having the last laugh following the incredible results of ten surgeries.
Laura Hawkes, 25, from Amberley, West Sussex was born with a unilateral cleft lip and palate but despite her condition never being a talking point amongst friends and family, was mercilessly teased to the point of tears at school for her appearance.
The bullying left Laura severely lacking in self-esteem during her teenage years and wanting to hide away from the world and avoid social situations.
Images show Laura just after she was born complete with a gaping hole in her lip and through her astounding transition to the beautiful young woman she is today.
“Growing up I was never made to feel different by my family or friends as my cleft was never a big talking point, but school was different as it was pointed out by many different boys who bullied me over my squashed nose and flat face,” she said.
“The one time I always remember is my first day at grammar school aged 14. My teacher left the room for something and the boy directly opposite me was pushing his nose into his face and laughing at me.
“I immediately burst into tears and ran out saying I never wanted to go back again. My teacher’s response to me asking to move seats after the incident was “I’m here to teach you, not to make you happy.
“I still see some of the boys that bullied me at school around, I have nothing to say to those kinds of people and I wouldn’t give them the time of day.
“I was made to feel ashamed about the way I looked and cried a lot over the fact I couldn’t look ‘normal’ because of those boys.”
Laura then expanded on her experience of growing up with a cleft palate, a condition defined as a gap or split in the upper lip or roof of the mouth caused by the baby’s face not joining together properly during development in the womb and affects around one in every 700 babies in the UK.
“I never saw myself as someone who was ugly I just knew I was different and unhappy over the way I looked,” said Laura
“I knew from the age of about seven that I wanted a nose job so going through surgeries I’ve had have always been exciting as I’d see it as improving myself.
“My nose was described by my surgeon as twisted and squashed as half my lip was missing on the cleft side that caused my nose to be pushed into my face and not have a properly formed nostril.
“The cartilage in my nose hadn’t all formed how it should’ve, also the bone in my nose was very crooked and grew the wrong way.
“I had my first surgery at just three-days-old in London under a cleft lip and palate team to close my lip. I went on to have nine more surgeries, one of which involved taking a bone graft from my hip aged 10.
“My biggest operation was my double jaw surgery where they cut my jaw on both sides, pulled it forward and screwed back into place, my jaw was then wired together by my braces to keep it in the right place.
“I’ve also had my skull tissue taken out and threaded through my top lip to make it fuller which left me with 14 staples in my head, whilst I also had my bone marrow hip scar tissue reopened to be used in my top lip to fill it out.”
Finally, Laura, whose speech and teeth were so affected by her condition that she was required to have speech therapy until the age of 10 and braces until the age of 20, detailed the reaction she has received from those who have witnessed her transformation and had a message about people like her who suffer from a cleft palate.
“People have been shocked and amazed at my transformation photos and are always asking what I’ve had done to achieve the way I look now,” she said.
“I’ve had other people with clefts reach out to me to find out who my surgeon is and where I have my surgeries as they are unhappy with their own previous surgeries.
“I don’t think cleft lip and palate is a well-known birth defect even one in 700 babies have it and it can also be hereditary.
“I’d urge people to do research as there are many charities who help underprivileged children in other countries get the surgery.”
For more information see Laura’s Instagram