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article imageDisabled teen stands strong against bullies

By Robert Kingett     Dec 5, 2013 in Lifestyle
Chicago - Today bullies still exist in an alarming number of schools. Disabled people are often targets. One girl, however, is positively fighting back with many methods.
Sarah Atwell always listened to her beloved grandmother, who taught her to love herself.
“My nanny always told us when we were sad to cheer us up, ‘Be strong, no matter what happens,’” the 18-year-old told ABCNews.com.
For Atwell, who lives with her family in Nova Scotia, that was a tough order. She was born with neurofibromatosis, which caused a massive tumor to grow on the side of her face.
The story of her psychological and physical transformation, “The Girl With Half a Face,” will air on Discovery Fit & Health on Dec. 18 at 10 p.m. (EST/PST), chronicling the weeks leading up to her successful surgery to remove the tumor.
According to the Mayo Clinic, neurofibromatosis is a genetic disorder that disturbs cell growth in the nervous system, causing tumors to form on nerve tissue. These tumors can develop anywhere, including the brain, spinal cord and nerves.
The tumors are usually benign but can sometimes become cancerous. Symptoms are often mild, but can include hearing loss, learning impairment and cardiovascular complications because of nerve compression caused by the tumors.
Atwell, like most with the disease, was diagnosed in early childhood at 8 months old. Since then, she has had headaches and blurred vision and eight different facial surgeries. But the biggest struggle has been facing the bullies at school.
One day, a cashier at a store refused to accept Sarah’s money because she thought she had a contagious disease.
when she was 12, Sarah fought back, posting a YouTube video holding the sign: “Maybe one day the bullying will stop.”
Her mother said she never realized the extent of the teasing until she saw that video.
Soon, the Discovery Channel ran across the compelling YouTube post and offered to make a TV documentary on Sarah’s ordeal. Many surgeons had refused to tackle her tumor because of its complexity, but her plight caught the attention of the medical community.
Sarah had three surgeries in 2010 and a risky one to remove most of the tumor last year.
Today, she is a senior in high school and helps out as a teacher’s aide. Sarah is excited about her future.
Discovery Fit & Health is partnering with DoSomething.org, an organization for young people and social change. In an effort to get the word out about anti-bullying, DoSomething.org and the Wireless Foundation have created a campaign called Bully Text, a virtual text-based educational game in which users choose how to respond to bullies, whether the victim or a bystander, in typical situations at an imaginary high school.
More about Advocate, Teenagers, Bullying, Disability
 
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