Growing up with a visible difference means facing a daily ʙᴀᴛᴛʟᴇ. Atholl Mills, 24, from Scotland, was ᴅɪᴀɢɴᴏsᴇᴅ with ᴄʏsᴛɪᴄ ʜʏɢʀᴏᴍᴀ at birth – a ғʟᴜɪᴅ-ғɪʟʟᴇᴅ sᴀᴄ that results from a ʙʟᴏᴄᴋᴀɢᴇ in the ʟʏᴍᴘʜᴀᴛɪᴄ sʏsᴛᴇᴍ. Due to the nature of his ᴄᴏɴᴅɪᴛɪᴏɴ, he had to have sᴜʀɢᴇʀʏ as soon as he was born, and his parents had to say their goodbyes as his ᴄʜᴀɴᴄᴇs of sᴜʀᴠɪᴠᴀʟ were low. But now – after countless ᴏᴘᴇʀᴀᴛɪᴏɴs – he is defying the odds and living a successful, independent life.
Mills said: ” My mum was told at one of her sᴄᴀɴs that there was something wrong. She was offered the ᴏᴘᴘᴏʀᴛᴜɴɪᴛʏ to ᴀʙᴏʀᴛ only me and keep my twin sister, but my mum decided ᴀɢᴀɪɴsᴛthat. 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 ʜᴏsᴘɪᴛᴀʟ and was told that my ᴄʜᴀɴᴄᴇs of sᴜʀᴠɪᴠᴀʟ were very slim.” During a five-hour ᴏᴘᴇʀᴀᴛɪᴏɴ, ᴅᴏᴄᴛᴏʀs had to ᴄᴜᴛ from the right side of his ɴᴇᴄᴋ round to the left side. They also ᴄᴜᴛ his ʟᴇғᴛ ғᴀᴄɪᴀʟ ɴᴇʀᴠᴇ to ʀᴇᴍᴏᴠᴇmore of the ᴄʏsᴛs, this resulted in him ᴅᴇᴠᴇʟᴏᴘɪɴɢ ғᴀᴄɪᴀʟ ᴘᴀʟsʏ, a ᴄᴏɴᴅɪᴛɪᴏɴ that ᴄᴀᴜsᴇs a permanent ᴡᴇᴀᴋɴᴇss or ᴘᴀʀᴀʟʏsɪs of the ғᴀᴄɪᴀʟ ᴍᴜsᴄʟᴇs.
Over the years he has ғᴀᴄᴇᴅ ɴᴇɢᴀᴛɪᴠᴇ reactions to his look which resulted in him developing so much anxiety, that he would lock himself up in his house, afraid to be ᴍᴏᴄᴋᴇᴅby sᴛʀᴀɴɢᴇʀs. He has been called ɴᴀᴍᴇs like a ‘half-chewed apple’, ‘disabled boy’, ‘Dᴜᴍʙᴏ’ and he has been called ‘ғʀᴇᴀᴋ’ on a train. Mills said: ” 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 ʙᴜʟʟʏɪɴɢ ᴅɪᴅɴ’ᴛ really happen for me and everyone was really accepting. But ᴠᴇɴᴛᴜʀɪɴɢ 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 ʙᴀᴛᴛʟᴇ. There are good days and bad days.”
He added:” There was an ɪɴᴄɪᴅᴇɴᴛ where I was on a train and someone pointed at me and said ‘look at that ғʀᴇᴀᴋ’ he was about the same age as me and with a group of friends. After the ɪɴᴄɪᴅᴇɴᴛ 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? I also want to show others who may have a child with ᴄʏsᴛɪᴄ ʜʏɢʀᴏᴍᴀ that it isn’t all ᴅᴏᴏᴍ and ɢʟᴏᴏᴍ because I was told when I was younger that I would never talk, walk or live an independent life. But here I am, 24, I can talk, walk, drive and I’ve even graduated from university.”