Talk to Morgan Campbell, and you’ll find it hard to believe that the confident, 19-year-old Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis sophomore ever fit her description of “extremely shy.”
Growing up as an only child, living with her mom and grandparents in Shelby, Indiana, she says she wasn’t used to being around a lot of other kids.
“I only talked to a small number of people, and would never talk in front of the class,” says the communications and journalism major.
Oddly enough, being born with a cleft lip and palate is what played a large part in her transformation into the self-assured young leader she is today.
Cleft lip and palate is a birth defect that results in a gap in the upper lip and palate (the roof of the mouth). At just eight weeks old, Morgan had surgery at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health to reconstruct her lip. At nine months old, she had surgery to reconstruct her palate.
Although surgery corrects the condition, children can still face physical and emotional challenges, such as ear infections and hearing loss, dental problems, speech difficulties and dealing with the needed intensive medical care.
Despite 14 surgeries over the years, wearing braces from age 7 to 18, recurrent ear infections and ringing in her ears, Morgan says when she was younger she didn’t really know what was different about her except that she had to go to the doctor more than other kids.
And then came middle school.
“I got bullied,” Morgan says. “People called me names, making fun of my lip because it had a scar from my surgery, and of my nose,” which she says was wider and slightly droopy on one side.
Morgan gave the bullies a pass they likely didn’t deserve.
“I knew it was mostly because kids just didn’t know why I looked different,” she says.
Three good friends did and helped her handle the taunts. The staff at the Riley Hospital for Children Cleft and Craniofacial Anomalies Clinic was all too familiar with what Morgan was dealing with and offered help, too.
“They told me about Camp About Face, a camp at Bradford Woods every summer for kids with craniofacial conditions,” Morgan says. “They showed me a scrapbook about it and gave me information so I could figure out if I wanted to go or not.”
Morgan Grows in Ways She Never Imagined
Despite her nervousness, she did go that summer and found a place — and people — that helped her begin to find herself.
“It was a huge help to my confidence and self esteem,” says Morgan. “It was cool to be with other kids who had other facial conditions. I saw that I wasn’t the only one who had difficulties, trying to explain what I had and trying to figure out how to grow into myself.”
She spent a week every summer for the next three years as a camper — rock climbing, canoeing, hiking and making friends, while finding confidence in herself along the way. When she was 15, she became a member of the Camp About Face Leadership Academy, serving as a leader and role model for the younger kids during the week.
“It was my favorite week of the summer,” Morgan says. “Having the little kids look up to you helps you grow into yourself. They think you’re helping them, but you’re helping yourself, too.”
Her growing confidence led her to get more involved in high school. She joined clubs and sports and got more involved in leadership opportunities. She also became a voice for other children and adolescents born with a craniofacial difference, taking any opportunity she could to educate others about the conditions.
“When I had to do reports, if I could write about cleft lip and palate, I would,” says Morgan. “It helped get the word out to classmates and friends and helped them understand.”
And the once-shy girl took center stage too, talking about her experience at Camp About Face at the state convention for the Indiana Beta Club, a high school organization that raises money to support the camp. She also spoke at a Riley Hospital for Children parent conference on cleft lip and palate.
“I wanted to let parents know that even when you don’t know what’s coming next, it’s going to be OK,” says Morgan. “A lot of parents told me afterward that I really helped them.”
Morgan also teams up with a friend from camp, Alex, to spread the word about craniofacial conditions, while also paying forward their gratitude for Camp About Face. They’ve raised more than $1000 for the camp by selling craniofacial awareness T-shirts and bracelets.
“We have them at camp the first and last day and parents also connect with me on Facebook to buy for themselves and their kids,” says Morgan. “We’ve been mailing new T-shirts like crazy!”
In August, Morgan officially completed her treatment with the Riley Hospital for Children Cleft and Craniofacial Anomalies Clinic. Her last surgeries were to correct a severe underbite, as well as a deformity in her nose, which improved her breathing.
Morgan says she won’t lose touch, however. Carol, one of the clinic’s nurses, and Trish, the craniofacial program coordinator, have become good friends over the years. Although Trish is retiring, Caitlin Church, a long-time friend and mentor of Morgan’s from Camp About Face, is stepping into the job.
“Having someone with a cleft lip and palate working there will make families feel better,” says Morgan.
Morgan wants to use her experience to help families feel better as well.
“I want to work in communications at a children’s hospital — Riley Hospital for Children would be my dream — and help get the word out and educate people about various conditions,” she says.
Regardless of where she lands, Morgan says she feels good about where she is now.
“Compared to where I started, I can definitely feel a difference,” she says. “I feel good about who I am.”