Born with a cleft lip and palate, a North Carolina college student is striving to help others share compassion and empathy in the world.
Henry Baddour's difficult journey began the day he was born.
"The stares that we got were relentless," said Holly Baddour, Henry's mother. "I'll never forget the first time I took him to a grocery store and I was trying to hide his face because I was just so tired of the looking and asking."
"When people say to you about your newborn, 'What's wrong with your baby? What happened to him?' It's like getting a knife into your heart."
The pain of a child with a cleft lip and palate only got worse with each year.
"The staring really got to me, whether it was children at school or even adults that walk by," said Henry Baddour, who attends the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Henry said he suffered silently through bullying and isolation, confiding in his parents only when he couldn't take it any more.
"Those were some of the toughest nights I can remember as a mom," Holly Baddour said.
Henry said he endured more than 15 surgeries and many months away from school.
His last operation four years ago was a wake-up call, he said.
"During that time, I looked for emotional resources for people who are born with a cleft lip palate like me and I came up with nothing," Henry said.
He decided to do something, so he formed "Cleft Proud," a nonprofit that serves as an educational and emotional support organization.
Now more than 70,000 people connect and support one another online.
"People are suffering through surgery and recovering at this very second and I want to do everything in my power to make sure they don't have to feel as alone as I did," Henry Baddour said.
Henry said he uses his platform to promote compassion and empathy.
"Being different is a gift and life would be much better if we embrace our differences, rather than letting them divide us," he said. "Remember, a smile is a powerful thing."
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