‘‘God made me this way. If you had to make me, you’d still be busy.”
This was how Laurence Ferreira put people in their place when he was boy if they stared at him or asked what was wrong with his face.
Throughout his teens, YOU reported on Laurence, who was born with a severely disfigured face. His nose was misshapen and squashed against his face and his left eye sat almost on the side of his face.
In addition this eye was covered by a growth and it impaired his vision.
"My right eye works well but I’m half-blind in my left eye and it gets tired,” Laurence tells YOU on the phone.
He’s 23 now and has a permanent job, working for a company that installs WiFi, alarm systems and electrical fences, he adds.
“I’m happy as I am; I live as a normal person and follow my gut feeling. I am who I am and people love me,” Laurence tells us from Burgersfort in Limpopo where he’s lived with his family over the past six years.
His mother, Juanita Ellis, remarried after getting divorced from Laurence’s dad and is a part-time photographer. Previously she was an invigilator with Unisa for five years. His sister, Jean Ferreira, works at a guesthouse.
Laurence says he’s been living life to the full since his last surgery in 2011, despite some tough periods.
“In recent years I’ve been hit hardest by the fact that my brother, Patrick Ellis, has leukaemia.
"At least it’s in remission now but it was difficult for me to see my brother suffer like that, and I just wanted to help.
"I supported him the whole time."
He says he still doesn’t fear anything life throws at him.
He also still wants to personally visit and thank all the people’s whose donations enabled him to have surgery.
How Laurence’s story unfolded
In 2006 Laurence and Anthony “Pudding” Rieck did a joint interview with YOU to discuss the birth defect – facial slit – with which they’d both been born. Laurence was 10 and Anthony 22 – close to Laurence’s current age.
YOU found Anthony in East London after a local resident called to say that a man with a severely disfigured face was recycling old oil there and working as a car guard. Anthony and his family – unlike Laurence and his family – lived in precarious conditions.
In the meantime Laurence and YOU made contact with Pudding, who got his name from his dad because he was last to arrive in his family – like dessert after a meal.
He and Laurence bonded immediately when we visited his grandfather together in Randfontein.
Travelling to the airport from Randfontein at the time, Anthony remarked in amazement: “I wish I was as outspoken and confident as Laurence. My life and the things people have said to me, have made me hard.”
With the help of YOU both Laurence and Pudding’s cases came to the attention of world-renowned plastic surgeon Professor Frank Graewe in 2006 en 2007 and his team operated on their faces.
Laurence also had a dermoid, a tumour growing over his left eye that affected his eyesight. Children mocked him about him and called him Red-eye.
Professor David Meyer of the ophthalmology department at the University of Stellenbosch’s faculty of health sciences worked on his eye in 2011.
Earlier Laurence and Anthony underwent surgery separately at Tygerberg Hospital.
Because he was older and his skull development was at an advanced stage, it was difficult the rearrange the bones on Anthony’s face.
But the surgeons did address the soft lesions around his right eye and operated on his nose to improve his vision and breathing.
In 2011 Laurence underwent his fifth and final operation at Tygerberg. A growth under his nose was removed, finishing touches were made to his nose and eye and his hairline was raised.
In surgery done in 1999 a bump on his forehead was removed and his left eye – which was positioned too low – was shifted up by 8 mm to be level with his right eye.
The bone slit on his forehead was also fixed. All the seven-year-old Laurence could recall of this eight-hour operation was that he received two train sets as presents.
‘‘I really wasn’t scared, really,” the youngster boasted at the time.