People with facial differences see their stories reflected in Wonder

People with facial differences see their stories reflected in Wonder
From CBC - November 21, 2017

When Vanessa Wiens was just 12 years old, she was out walking her dog and someone yelled, "Heyyou, ugly ... you should go kill yourself."

She did contemplate suicide, being the target of cruel commentsin her neighbourhood at least four times a weekwhen she was growing up.

Wiens, now 19 and living in Mississauga, Ont., says those words are still seared in her memory years later.

At school, life was "just terrible."

"We had recess and I just would hide in the bathroom most of the time," she says.

Wienshada very small jaw andprotruding teeth due torheumatoid arthritis. She has had multiple surgeries.

Her best friend, Katie Atkinson, also 19, has similar painful memories.

"All the staring ... I would sit alone in science class just because I looked different. And just feelingthat, like, isolation," she said. "You have people around you but they just do not want to get to know you."

On Monday, for the first time, Wiensand Atkinson, along with other former patients of the craniofacialprogram at Sick Kids hospital in Toronto, saw their experiences reflected in the movie Wonder.Jacob Tremblay, 11, stars as Auggie Pullman, a boy born with Treacher Collins syndrome, which affects the facial skeleton, ears and eyes.

The film is based on a book written by R.J. Palacio, a mother who was disturbed by how her three-year-old son reacted to seeing another child with a facial difference, and wanted to spread an overarching message of kindness toward others.

While researching the role, Tremblay with the encouragement of his mother, Christinareached out to patients with facial differences who had been treated in the Sick Kidsprogram. Wiens, Atkinson and six otherssent Tremblayphotos and letters describing their personal experiences.

"Before I heard about the role I did not know that facial differences existed," Tremblaytold CBCNews.He wanted to learn as much as he could, and carried a binder of the letterson set with him, rereading them before filming certain scenesincluding the one in which Auggiewalks into his middle school homeroom for the first time.

"It's about the experience of being stared at," Tremblaysaid.

After filming, Tremblaycame to Toronto last October to meet the eight peoplewho had shared their stories with him.And on Monday, he returnedthis time with two of his castmates to join them for a screening of the movie at Sick Kids hospital.

Atkinson who, like Auggie,has TreacherCollins syndromesaid it was a powerful experience.

"I never saw anyone on TV or out in public ...or even heard any stories about anyone like me," she said. "And I am just sitting here and watching a beautiful movie about a boy who's just like me."

What is TreacherCollins syndrome?

Dr. Christopher Forrest, the head of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Sick Kids who works in the craniofacial program, says about one in 125,000 children in Canada is born with TreacherCollins syndrome. But cases vary widely, from mild to severe.

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