Gabriel Hafter, 11, is an extraordinary boy with extraordinary features.
Born with Treacher Collins syndrome, a genetic birth defect that affects the bone structure of his face, Gabriel uses his condition to stress an anti-bullying message to his peers.
According to his mother, Jackie Hafter, the syndrome affects an estimated 1 in 50,000 births.
“He describes it as if he is the only person sitting at a packed Yankee Stadium who has (the condition),” she said. “He’s had 12 surgeries total. It never comes without complications, but he gets through it somehow.”
Hafter, a Summerlin resident, said Gabriel’s lower jaw doesn’t grow, causing problems with breathing and eating.
“He was on a feeding tube for the first five years of his life,” Hafter said. “Many kids end up having (tracheotomies) to help them breathe, but we’re grateful Gabriel hasn’t needed one.”
To avoid needing a tracheotomy, Gabriel has undergone three jaw distractions, including one last summer.
In addition to a smaller jaw, Gabriel has a malformation of his middle ear that causes moderate to severe hearing loss. He also has only about 10 percent of his cheekbones.
“He could be a candidate for a middle ear and cheekbone reconstructions, but it comes with a lot of complications,” Hafter said. “It’s an elective procedure. So if it’s something he wants to do in the future, he can.”
Author R.J. Palacio published “Wonder,” a fictional book about 10-year-old August “Auggie” Pullman, who has a condition similar to Gabriel’s. The book follows Auggie as he attends public school for the first time.
Using the book as a foundation, Gabriel and his teacher at Desert Torah Academy, 1312 Vista Drive, created a curriculum to explain his condition to his classmates. The students read the book as a class and completed activities.
“Bullying is a serious problem in schools everywhere; it does harm to everyone involved,” said Rabbi Moishe Rodman, principal of the academy. “Therefore, it’s important we teach and advise students that it’s unacceptable.”
Gabriel’s peers have been sensitive toward his condition and the curriculum. They recently made a short video for him, titled “To Our Real-Life Auggie: Gabe,” and shared how he inspires them.
“Gabriel is a bright young man,” Rodman said. “He is friendly and popular with his peers. He has not let his physical challenge stop him in any way, shape or form.”
Because of Gabriel’s classroom talks, the Children’s Craniofacial Association selected Gabriel and 20 other children with similar conditions to educate more students.
Nicknamed the Wonder Kids or Real-Life Auggies, the group is set to visit schools across the country, either in person or via webcam, to give presentations, answer questions or become pen pals.
“The association plans to do what Gabriel has already been doing in these classrooms,” Hafter said.
In his free time, Gabriel likes to play sports and collect sports cards. His favorite superhero is Superman because he has been compared to him.
“We’ve always been matter-of-fact about his birth defect,” Hafter said. “He has known he was put here for a reason. He was given this to teach others.”
Contact Spring Valley/Southwest View reporter Caitlyn Belcher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0403.