She already knew that she was expecting twins, but an ultrasound revealed an unexpected birth defect. One of her twin boys would be born with Pierre Robin syndrome, a facial disfigurement that affects an estimated 1 in 10,000 children.
Ramona brought her pregnancy to term and raised her sons, Gabriel and Haidin—it wasn’t easy, but the family stayed strong. Now, at 19 years old, Gabriel is living out a new chapter of his life.
Read on to learn more about the Cooper family and the outcome of Gabriel’s plastic surgery.
14. The Most Difficult Decision
“I had to think for two months about keeping him,” she said. Significant medical problems affect babies born with this syndrome, including major difficulties in breathing and feeding.
13. Bundles Of Joy
Children with PRS usually reach full development and size. Their prognosis is quite good once breathing and feeding issues are overcome in infancy.
Ramona carried her pregnancy to term, and in March 1997, her boys were born.
12. A New Name
After learning of his condition, Ramona changed his name from Madison to Gabriel.
“As a woman of faith, I wanted him to have a guardian angel, so I named him after Gabriel,” she said.
“The boys have had their problems, but I’ve never regretted keeping Gabriel—he is a wonderful son,” she added. The teenage years were tough for the boys, but most parents watch their children go through the same growing pains.
10. Growing Pains
The family went through counseling during the boys’ teenage years. Haidin explained that he blamed himself for Gabriel’s condition. He feared that he had kicked his brother in the jaw while they were in the womb, but that’s simply not true. “I felt pretty good when I realized I had nothing to do with Gabriel’s appearance,” Haidin said. “I’m not sure why I felt responsible, but I just did—it was good when we established that wasn’t the case.”
9. Friendly Competition
While Gabriel did feel resentment towards his brother, he explains that he found a healthy outlet for those feelings.
“I resented him for a time, but then I turned that useless anger into something more useful,” Gabriel explains. Friendly competition helped Gabriel overcome those feelings. “I wanted to beat him at things, I thought that was cool.”
8. A Groundbreaking Procedure
The family traveled from their home in Alabama to New York in May 2016. The Little Baby Face Foundation performed the jaw-expanding surgery and dramatically altered Gabriel’s appearance.
7. Outstanding Results
This procedure opened up his lower jaw and extended it forward to bring it in line with his upper jaw.
“But this is more of a treatment period than a simple surgery—Gabriel’s jaw will now have to heal much like any broken bone,” said one of Gabriel’s doctors.
His mother has noticed the changes as well.
“He just seems more outgoing and is having conversations with people where he would normally just say hi and walk away,” she said.
5. A New Chapter
“He has also lost a lot of his mannerisms,” his mother added. “He doesn’t look uncomfortable when he is in public and is embracing the change really well.”
4. Changed But Still The Same
“Yes, they’re identical, physically that’s true, chromosomally that’s true,” Ramona said in an interview. “But I somehow feel like I would have lost my son if they looked the same. Gabriel has always been the same person, he just looked different.”
3. Brothers At Heart
“I think I realized I was different when we were around 12,” he added. “It’s not just that I look different—I have to go to the doctors a lot and he doesn’t have to.”
2. Profound Impact
“It’s also great being in New York City, the people here are so open minded, nobody stares at me—when I was in Soho, one guy thought that I just had some really cool piercings.”
1. How To Help
Pierre Robin syndrome is named after the French physician who first reported the combined abnormalities in 1923. The direct cause is unknown, but it’s likely due to mutations in DNA during development.
The Little Baby Face Foundation helped Gabriel receive his surgery. They accept donations online that help them grant world-class reconstructive surgery to children in need.
The Cooper family and their doctors are very happy with the results of the surgery.
“I didn’t know how this was going to work,” Ramona said. “But I do actually see Hadin and Gabriel looking more alike.”
Still, Gabriel and Haidin remain uniquely different. “We are still twins on the inside,” Gabriel says.
You can learn more about the Cooper family in a Barcroft TV documentary on YouTube. Their struggles are shared by many families around the globe, and you can also donate to The Little Baby Face Foundation to help provide children with these life-changing surgical procedures.