By Liana Jacob
MEET THE man whose mother was advised to ABORT because of a genetic condition and who later was left with FACIAL PARALYSIS following surgery at birth but despite receiving comments that he looks like a ‘HALF-CHEWED APPLE’ is finally learning to love himself – and the confidence is even helping him pull.
Waiter, Atholl Mills (24), from Scottish Borders, Scotland, was diagnosed with cystic hygroma at birth, a fluid-filled sac that results from a blockage in the lymphatic system.
Due to the nature of his condition, he had to have surgery as soon as he was born, and his parents had to say their goodbyes as his chances of survival weren’t good.
Atholl is a twin, and his mum was advised during one of her pregnancy scans, due to his condition, to abort him and keep his sister, which his mother refused.
During a five-hour operation, doctors had to cut from the right side of his neck round to the left side. They also cut his left facial nerve to remove more of the cysts; this resulted in him developing facial palsy, a condition that causes a permanent weakness or paralysis of the facial muscles.
His condition caused his left ear to grow into a different shape and size, which meant that he had to undergo another surgery in 2007 to have them pinned back and have his left ear completely reconstructed.
In 2013 he underwent a 10-hour surgery to move a muscle from his leg to his face, which meant that whenever he clenched his teeth, the muscle contracted and pulled the left side of his face upward to give him more of a smile.
Over the years he has faced negative reactions to his look which resulted in him developing so much anxiety, that he would lock himself up in his house, afraid to be mocked by strangers.
He has been called names like a ‘half-chewed apple’, ‘disabled boy’, ‘Dumbo’ and he has been called ‘freak’ on a train. It wasn’t until 2011, when he looked at himself in the mirror after an incident on the train, that he decided to look at himself differently.
He began posting videos on YouTube and pictures on social media, which helped him grow in confidence.
“When my mother gave birth to me, I was operated on very quickly. During this operation they also cut my facial nerve on my left side, which resulted in facial palsy as well,” Atholl said.
“My mum was told at one of her scans that there was something wrong with one of the babies she was carrying.
“She was offered the opportunity to abort only me and keep my sister, but my mum decided against that. She always knew that giving me up was never an option for her.
“When I was born my parents had a couple of minutes with me before I was rushed to hospital and was told that my chances of survival were very slim.
“It was very difficult; being young I didn’t really have a concept that anything was wrong with me but as I got older, I began to realise that there was something different about me and that was hard to deal with.
“I spent a lot of my childhood wishing that I was either someone else or that I would wake up one day and everything would just be fixed.
“Living in a small village meant that bullying didn’t really happen for me and everyone was really accepting. But venturing out further often meant that I was stared at or pointed at.
“It impacted my confidence a lot. It still does today because it really is an ongoing battle. There are good days and bad days.
“When I was younger, I went through stages of bad anxiety where I didn’t want to leave the house over fear that someone would say something to me as in my head, I looked horrendous.
“I’ve been called a half-chewed apple before, disabled boy, Dumbo (when my ears were bigger), two face, the list really does go on.”
Atholl says that his insecurities affected his way of life and despite the surgeries he’s had done, he would still be called names.
However, he has since changed his perception of himself and says that his more confident attitude has helped him when dating.
“There was an incident where I was on a train and someone pointed at me and said “look at that freak” he was about the same age as me and with a group of friends,” he said.
“In addition to that, the train was also packed, and everyone was looking at me. I remember feeling so low after that and I’ve never forgotten about that day. But it was also the day I realised that something needed to change.
“After the incident on the train I really looked at myself in the mirror and I degraded myself. But then I realised that I wouldn’t let someone else say these things to me or a friend, so why was I allowing myself to say it?
“It was then I made it my mission to stand in front of the mirror once a day and compliment myself in some way or another.
“Slowly but surely my confidence grew, and I realised that if I looked for someone to look at me or say something about me, I would find it.
“So, I just stopped doing that whenever I went out and I focused on what I was doing with my family or friends and my confidence just grew and grew. I still have a way to go but I’m so far removed from where I was about seven years ago.
“Starting my YouTube channel was also a major help in gaining confidence because I was able to see that the way I looked was only a small part of who I am because so many people loved me because of my personality.
“Always be yourself, no matter what anyone else thinks. The right people will always find their way to you.
“I also want to show others who may have a child with cystic hygroma that it isn’t all doom and gloom because I was told when I was younger that I would never talk, walk or live an independent life. But here I am, twenty-four-years-old; I can talk, walk, drive and I’ve even graduated from university.”
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