Kelsey Bingham took a big leap of faith - moving from Akron to Utah, where she is a freshman at Brigham Young University. But it wasn't that long ago that Kelsey was a child undergoing a series of surgeries to correct a cleft palate.
Before she left for college, Kelsey created a videotape message that she hopes will be shared with young children and their parents facing the same diagnosis.
Babies born with cleft palates do not have tissue connecting their mouths and noses. The severity of the birth defect will determine the extent of the reconstruction and number of surgeries needed.
Kelsey has been an active member of Akron Children's Hospital's Cleft Palate Family Network since fifth grade and was unable to attend the support group's annual picnic. She quickly accepted an invitation to send in a letter or video to be shared with other families.
"I figured that if a video like this would have been around when I was born it would have been very helpful for my parents," Kelsey says in the video. "It would have reassured them that their child with a cleft palate would be okay - that socially, physically and emotionally, she would be alright."
Speaking directly to the camera in her family room, Kelsey describes the difficult journey she has traveled since being born with a unilateral cleft palate. She has had skin and bone graft surgeries, operations to repair a deviated septum, and implants and metal rods used as part of her facial reconstruction.
As with most kids, all Kelsey wanted was to "fit in." But there were times she had to endure stares and questions about her appearance - some simply inquisitive while others malicious and intended to embarrass.
Kelsey is now old enough and wise enough to see the life lessons and how she is a stronger young woman for what she has been through. In the video, she expresses her gratitude for her parents, who juggled the schedules of four children to get Kelsey to all her medical and speech therapy appointments, as well as the specialized care needed at home. She also thanks her plastic surgeon, Dr. James Lehman, and the staff of Akron Children's Craniofacial Clinic.
Kelsey's first semester in college has come with its own challenges. She broke her leg, and surgeons had to use rods and screws to repair such a serious fracture. She was in a wheelchair for two months and on crutches for another month. Professors recommended that she drop out and move home, but she refused and ended up her first semester with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.
She believes the perseverance that she acquired in childhood continues to carry her through adversity.
"I can't say I am happy that I was born with a cleft palate," she says. "But I am now comfortable and confident with it. Something like this will change your world - no doubt about that - but it can change your world for the better - if you let it."