Being given bad news about an unborn baby is surely every expectant mother’s worst nightmare. After all, it would undoubtedly raise inevitable unwanted questions over the birth and health of their precious little ones. However, when Ramona Cooper was told that there was a problem with her soon-to-be-delivered twins, she was faced with a profound decision to make.
Of course, Cooper had known for some time that she was due to give birth to identical twin boys. But when doctors gave her the devastating news that one of her sons had a rare medical condition, she was given the option to abort the affected fetus. Consequently, she spent an agonizing two months contemplating the choice thrust upon her.
So what was the problem? Well, one of her boys had been diagnosed with Pierre Robin Syndrome. This rare condition involves the baby’s jaw being malformed. What’s more, complications such as feeding and breathing difficulties can subsequently occur because of the tongue’s retracted position.
“I had to think for two months about keeping him,” Cooper later told the media. Her primary concern, however, was not so much about her son’s disability, but over the strain that it might place on the boys’ relationship. “It wasn’t that I had a problem with him being disabled, but I feared that one twin could grow to despise the other,” she said.
Nevertheless, she finally made the decision to carry the pregnancy through, and in March 1997 two identical, yet very different, twin boys were born. In fact, while Hadin looked like any other healthy baby, Gabriel would, for 19 years, look remarkably different from his brother.
Interestingly, it was Gabriel’s condition that led Cooper to choosing his name. She said, “Hadin was always Hadin, but I thought Gabriel was going to be called Madison. But as a woman of faith I wanted him to have a guardian angel, so I named him after Gabriel.”
When Gabriel was delivered, Cooper didn’t immediately notice anything unusual. She said, “When he was born all I could see was his hair. I couldn’t see what the problem was. But then it became obvious that he didn’t really have a jaw line.” And it was then that her concerns grew.
“I really didn’t know how people would respond to him or how the boys would be together,” Cooper said. And her fears weren’t unwarranted. In fact, the boys fought constantly through their teenage years, and after a lengthy period in therapy, it emerged that Hadin held himself responsible for his brother’s disfigurement.
At first, Hadin believed that he’d kicked his brother in the face inside the womb. But when he discovered the truth, as he said, “I felt pretty good when I realized I had nothing to do with Gabriel’s appearance. I’m not sure why I felt responsible, but I just did. It was good when we established that wasn’t the case.”
In fact, by the time that Gabriel and Hadin were in high school, the boys were on the defensive together, lashing out at those quick to mock Gabriel. After all, it’s not only his twin brother whom Gabriel looks exceptionally different from; it’s most other people, too.
Hadin said, “Other kids couldn’t figure out how to treat Gabriel because he looked different – they thought it was cool to provoke him. Thinking back, I was always angry. I hate people messing with my brother.” Gabriel, however, has a more pragmatic approach to bullying these days.
Gabriel said, “I’m a respectable young man. I still have people who see me and make fun of me on the spot, but now I don’t pay any attention to them at all.” In fact, he has taken to using his condition as a means of motivation.
“Facially I am different, but if you ask [Hadin] to do something then I can do it too,” Gabriel said. “I think that’s what motivated me to become better at school and sports; people shouldn’t judge me because of my facial difference and I hope I’ve showed them that.”
Gabriel added, “I’m obviously different from Hadin, but I would just say I’m unique because of this condition. I think I realized I was different when we were around 12. It’s not just that I look different – I have to go to the doctors a lot and Hadin doesn’t have to.”
Their mom has also been subject to negativity. Cooper said, “Someone came and told me I must have drank a lot during pregnancy because he had a cleft palate.” But, of course, there was nothing to prevent her son’s condition.
However, Gabriel’s life would change in 2016 when he traveled from his home in Alabama to New York City for revolutionary plastic surgery. Under the expert care of Dr. Stephen Warren, Gabriel had expanders inserted into his lower jaw in order to stretch it in line with the upper jaw.
As Dr. Warren explained, “We had to make little cuts in his jaw bone and attach a metal device which was closed by one millimeter each day for 30 days. This opened up and helped lengthen his lower jaw bringing it in line with his upper jaw.”
Yet although now Gabriel and Hadin look a little more like twins, for their mom, that’s not the objective. She said, “I don’t want Gabriel to feel like this surgery is to make him look like Hadin; as if the way he looks is wrong and Hadin is right.”
The operation made an immediate positive impact on Gabriel, though. “He just seems more outgoing,” said Cooper. “He doesn’t look uncomfortable when he is in public. [He’s] embracing the change really well.”
For Gabriel himself, meanwhile, the change has been profound. “Seeing myself feels strange,” he said. “I’m already a happy person, but I guess it will help to make me more outgoing; I already feel more confident. I always thought I was happy as I was, but this has already had a huge impact on my life.”