Because Austin Niehus looked unique, bullies thought he was an easy target. And although he was a strong person, it was challenging to endure the incessant ridiculed because of his craniofacial birth defect of his head and face. No one would deny that Niehus looked different. But that was no excuse for bullies to try to ravage his self-esteem because he had Goldenhar Syndrome. The condition caused him to have incomplete development of his lips, ear, nose, and mandible.
Goldenhar Syndrome altered his physical appearance greatly. Although the situation forced Niehus to have numerous surgeries throughout this childhood, these did little to change the way the rare genetic condition changed his look. Despite being loving and smart, his peers could not handle the fact that he did not look like their “normal” selves. So they bullied and harassed and performed cruel tricks on him since he can remember.
Like any other kid, Niehus just wanted friends in school. But his condition scared his peers and left him feeling isolated and alone. This fate left him hoping to meet other people with Goldenhar Syndrome. However it is so rare, he knew there must be few people like him on the planet.
And he was right. The chances were nearly nil. However, in the video below, Austin Niehus got the chance to meet a special visitor. As the stranger pulls up to Niehus’s family home in frigid Colorado, Niehus runs outside and calls to his mom, Kera, and his siblings.
“They’re here!” the Niehus family screams. “Oh my God! Here she comes, here she comes!”
The heartwarming moment that unfolds meant more to Austin Niehus than most can appreciate. Because he went through his whole life never knowing a single person who looked like him and had the same experience as him, it was a relief to find another person going through the same journey. He could finally relate to someone.
The person who steps out of the car changes his life forever. She is 12-year-old Elena. And just like Austin, she was born with the rare Goldenhar Syndrome. They both experienced the same bullying and isolation from their peers. Meeting each other was a life-changing experience for them both. Knowing that there was at least one other person going through the same struggles in life affirmed who they were and helped them honor their journey.
After Elena pulled up to Austin’s family’s home, Kera invites her in for hot chocolate. And then Elena gives Austin a gift.
After meeting her, Austin said, “She’s awesome. She’s the type of person you can be really, really good friends with. Like dang!”
After they got to hang out for a while, Kera takes Austin and Elena on a special treat. She’s taking them out into the mountains to go snow tubing. And as you can watch in the video, it turns out to be an adventure for them both.
In the end, the experience of meeting Elena had a considerable impact on Austin.
“I feel like I’m not alone now.”