Girl Born With No Eyes or Nose, Gets a Nose

PHOTO: Cassidy Hooper and sisters
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Cassidy Hooper was born with no eyes and no nose, but on Sept. 18 -- a big day for the North Carolina 17-year-old -- she undergoes the final surgery that will give her a nose.

"It's been a long process, but the day has finally come," said her father, J. Aaron Cassidy, a 48-year-old engineer. "Cassidy is certainly excited for this day to be here."

Cassidy, a senior at Governor Morehead School, told ABCNews.com earlier this year that she is excited that for the first time, she will be able to smell and breathe through her nose.

"I'll have a real nose like everyone else's," she said.

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Since 2007, when she was 11, Cassidy has gone through a series of skin graft and facial reconstruction surgeries at Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte. In three final surgeries done over two to three weeks, doctors will stretch skin flaps over a bone or cartilage graft from another part of her body.

Nothing has ever stood in the way of Cassidy's optimism and ambition. "Things always may be hard," she said. "But here's what I think: I don't need easy, I just need possible."

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No one knows why Cassidy was born without eyes and a nose, a rare birth defect that likely occurred during the first two weeks of gestation.

"Her heart and brain are normal," said her mother, Susan Hooper, 43, who's a kindergarten teacher. "Nothing else is going on with her." Hooper likened the series of surgeries to building the foundation of a house.

The surgery will be performed by Dr. David C. Matthews, a pediatric surgeon. So far, Cassidy has undergone four to five "expander" operations to break through her gums. Then, she had surgery to create nasal passages and break her jaw to set it properly.

That was followed by a skin graft to help keep her nasal hole open, because it kept closing. She underwent another major surgery on her jaw so that the upper jaw could move forward and be more in line with her lower jaw. Three more surgeries were done this summer to prepare the area for her nose to be attached.

As a little girl, Cassidy had prosthetics for eyes, but at $5,000 apiece, the family could not afford to replace the custom-made eyes when she outgrew them.

"Insurance didn't pay one cent," said her mother. "We had already started the process to do her nose, moving her eyes closer together and having her skull reshaped. We were not going to pay for it then have to pay again."

She said once Cassidy's nasal surgery was completed, they would buy new prosthetic eyes.

Since the fifth grade, Cassidy has gone to Governor Morehead, a residential K-12 school for the blind, where no challenge was too big for her. She's on the track team and qualified last year for a scholarship to the Charlotte Curling Club.

The first week of school, Cassidy turned to her mother and said, "Mom, everyone here is blind, so I'm normal."

Though she received some stares and taunts as a young child, today her social life is busy.

"Honestly, there's been a bit of teasing, but not more than any other child on a regular day," said her mother.

If Hooper is with her daughter and notices stares, she'll often say pre-emptively, "Do you have a question -- she looks kind of different. And she'll answer the question herself."

"When kids realize it's just an outward thing, and she likes everything else other teenagers like, they are more accepting," she said.

Cassidy is a strong student, on track to go to college and study broadcast journalism.

"She's very outgoing and never met a stranger she didn't like," said Hooper. "Whenever we go anywhere, she says, 'Put me by the pool and I'll go make friends.' She loves to talk and is very, very self-confident."

In track and field events, Cassidy runs the 75-yard dash with the help of a cable to direct her. "I hold on to this rope and it slides across the cable like a zip line," she said. "I just run and it helps me."

When she does curling -- the Canadian Olympic sport on ice -- she relies on an assistant to serve as her eyes.

"To me, if it's something hard, I get through it," said Cassidy.

In 2011, Cassidy protested a law that required the Department of Public Instruction to close one of three schools that serve the blind and deaf in North Carolina, appearing at a public hearing in Raleigh. Her school was spared.

She was also recently offered her first job at the Library for the Blind, according to ABC's WBTV, which has followed Cassidy's story for six years. She'll take the Amtrak from Charlotte to Raleigh every week.

Cassidy has high hopes for her future, despite her physical challenges.

Her advice to others with disabilities: "If you have challenges, be positive about it."

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