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Brave face of painful condition

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People with facial disfigurements in Bermuda will for the first time have a dedicated source of support and advice thanks to the work of an 11-year-old boy.

Somersfield Academy student Peter Strachan was born with a unilateral cleft lip and palate — a condition that has seen him go through eight operations from when he was just four months old.

Though he has faced major challenges in his young life, he and his family struggled to find any support in Bermuda to help them. They were not alone.

Peter wrote to doctors in Bermuda to make sure there was a demand for such a service on the island and more than 30 wrote back to say it was absolutely needed.

There were six babies born in Bermuda with a cleft lip and/or a cleft palate between 2007 and 2016, according to figures supplied by the Bermuda Hospitals Board, but there are countless more people who have disfigurements from other causes.

In the same period, there have been 3,544 people who were born with or acquired facial disfigurements. This includes babies born with facial anomalies, people with facial burns, and the biggest cause of facial disfigurement, traffic collisions, which amounted to 3,254 people.

Yet despite the large numbers of people affected, there is no dedicated group to provide financial, practical or emotional support for them. One of Peter's primary concerns is families who can't afford the extortionate medical costs that come hand in hand with many facial disfigurements.

So when he was tasked with a school project dedicated to an issue that mattered most to him, he decided to create his own association to help others who had been through the same challenges as him. He will be presenting his project at Somersfield Academy's annual What Matters Conference at the school tomorrow from 9.30am to 11.15am.

Peter spent his summer holidays launching Face Bermuda — an association complete with its own website which includes facts, figures and advice on facial disfigurement, a support blog for people to share their challenges and experiences, a GoFundMe page to raise money for charities dealing with facial disfigurements and even a cookbook designed specifically for people who have come out of surgery and are placed on soft or liquid diets.

There are also videos posted on the website,, about the issue of facial disfigurement including one by respected Bermudian film-maker Antoine Hunt and another focused on a fundraising effort by one of Peter's former Somersfield teachers Ness Madeiros who ran a marathon barefoot to raise money for the Face Forward Foundation.

Looking back on his experiences, Peter said: “It was really painful, I had a lot of operations. It's like you have fallen on the floor and you can't do anything. Before the operations I was always really scared. There was no help or support and that is why I wanted to do this. LCCA [Lady Cubitt Compassionate Association] can do it a bit in helping raise money for some people who can not afford it but, for support, I don't think there is anything.

“My blog is somewhere where other people can talk about different types of disfigurements and help the other people on the blog and you can just write and write.”

Peter was just four months old when he had his first operation to close the gap on his upper lip — a procedure, he says, that left him with his “favourite scar”. He was put in a neonatal room shortly after he was born to have a tube placed in his nose for feeding. Closing his lip was just the beginning and he would be faced with much more complex and invasive surgeries in the years to follow.

At the age of three he was transferred to Boston Children's Hospital for another surgery to redo the stitches on his lip. He had another six surgeries in Boston including a bone graft at the age of 10.

Peter explained: “Though I have had many, there are still one or two operations planned for the future. When I am 18 years old, my jaw will be split in six places using drilling machines and moved forward. I will also have rhinoplasty to build up the cartilage in my nose. I live in Bermuda and go to a school I really enjoy. I have lots of friends and teachers and a supportive family. Throughout my struggles I have learnt that the world can be painful and it is not always happy and comfortable.

“However, it is important to find happiness and joy and keep alive.”

Peter's mother Jacqueline Alma added: “The operations are expensive. If somebody does not have insurance, it is very expensive. I think the misconception people have when they think about someone with a cleft lip and palate, is that the lip has been fixed.

“They don't realise that is the easiest part. The extensive part of the palate means bone grafts and closing the soft palate; those are big operations. There is speech therapy — there is a lot more than meets the eye. The ears don't drain properly because of the way the mouth didn't close up properly so a lot of these children have to have grommets so they have impaired hearing. We had no advice beforehand and it was very scary.”

When his mother asked him if he wished he could go back in time and be born without a cleft lip and palate, Peter told her “no way” because he wouldn't be who he is today.

“I think it is nicer — I wouldn't have done this project,” he said. Peter is known for his caring nature and in his school he is known as “the Peace Maker”.

The annual What Matters Conference is the idea of Somersfield Academy's innovations teacher Mark Brown. It takes place at Somersfield Academy tomorrow and is open to the public.

Head of primary department Tina Outerbridge said she was “in awe” when she found out what Peter wanted to do for his project.

She told The Royal Gazette: “I teared up a bit because when I took on this role I was introduced to the family and they had shared with me all the things that Peter had gone through. What he is doing is an amazing project that is bigger than me, it's bigger than Somersfield Academy — it is an opportunity for him to share his experience with his classmates.”

Peter said he is grateful to M4 student Sebastian Lee who helped him to build the website and is featured interviewing Peter in one of the videos. Thanks to his help, the website will be up and running in time for the What Matters Conference and donations can be made via the GoFundMe page.

Along with sales from the e-book on the site containing recipes, funds will be raised for various charities including LCCA, Clapa, Smile Train, Changing Faces and other charities that offer medical treatment and support to people with facial disfigurements around the world.

•The Bermuda Hospitals Board will be providing a link to Peter's website on its Facebook page. To find out more about Peter's association or to donate funds to his cause, visit: Peter's association will also have its own Facebook page

Peter Strachan as a baby before his first of many surgeries
Peter Strachan after his operation to close his lip
Peter Strachan has spent a lot of time in hospital undergoing various surgeries for his cleft lip and palate
Star student: Peter Strachan
Peter Strachan
Peter Strachan
Peter Strachan with his cook book for people coming out of surgery (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published May 15, 2017 at 7:27 am (Updated May 15, 2017 at 12:31 pm)

Brave face of painful condition

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