Don’t ever give up

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Richard Montemayor

Richard Montemayor

Being born with a birth defect doesn’t define who I am.

Viewpoint by Richard Montemayor

It’s not an easy life when you are born with a birth defect — take it from me. But what helped me overcome challenges that I faced in life was to never give up. I wasn’t going to let the school bully get the best of me.

My Apert syndrome was unexpected. My mom and dad had no idea I was going to be born with it.

Apert syndrome is a genetic disorder that causes abnormal development of the skull.

The syndrome is caused by a rare mutation on a single gene that is responsible for guiding bones to join together at the right time during development.

Physical characteristics identifying individuals with Apert syndrome include abnormal skull growth, wide-set bulging eyes and web-like hands or feet.

All of which I have.

I also suffer from hearing loss in my right ear, and the syndrome causes chronic sinus infections and allergies.

So you can imagine how I feel about mountain cedar.

One in 65,000 children are born with Apert syndrome.

I’m the only one in my family who has this syndrome, but if I have children there is a 50-50 chance they would be born with Apert.

Growing up with Apert was far from normal.

Instead of sleep-away camp or the beach, I spent summers in Dallas at Medical City Dallas Hospital in the Craniofacial Center.

I’ve had more than 30 surgeries on my hands, feet, head, mouth and eyes.

I’ll never forget when the late Robert Newhouse of the Dallas Cowboys came to visit me. It was a day after I had surgery. Newhouse was at the hospital visiting all the kids on the floor.

This was when the Cowboys were cool. Newhouse and some of the cheerleaders walked into my room. I was shocked to see him. He didn’t stay long. He said hello and gave me some Cowboy stickers. He was a nice guy to meet.

Even though I have metal plates in my forehead, it doesn’t stop me from going though airport security, it makes it quicker than everyone else.

Growing up with Apert was not only hard on me.

It was tough for my mom, especially when I would come out of surgery. She had a hard time trying to get over the fact that I was all bandaged up or sometimes that my eyes would be swollen shut for days. No mother should ever see her son in pain.

My mom must have had her guardian angel looking down on her because she met my stepdad, Louis Garcia. He has been so supportive of my mom and me and has treated me like a son.

I’m glad my mom met my stepfather when she did. Knowing her, she could not have handled having to see me in the hospital.

That man has been my wingman for all 30 surgeries, and for that I’m grateful to call him my dad.

One of my challenges has been trying to get an education.

K-12 was tough because part of the brain never fully develops in people with Aperts. Not all of the teachers would work with me. Some teachers had a hard time trying to understand my needs, and some wouldn’t even bother trying to help. I wasn’t going to let an instructor who would not work with me stop me from achieving my goal. If I had to retake a course, I would do it to pass.

Math was a subject I could never master. For the most of those years, I was in special education.

Middle and high school were like the Wild West. Why do kids make fun of kids who look different?

I may look different on the outside, but like everyone else, I’m the same on the inside. I would tell you how many times I got made fun of, bullied and ended up in the trash, but I lost count.

They tried their best to make my life a living hell, but they failed. The same words that hurt years before had become weak.

I wasn’t going to let a bully get the best of me. I was going to show them that I’m better than they are by keeping my head held high and not giving them any attention.

They could make my life a living hell all they wanted, but that wasn’t going to knock me down.

Now, I’m a college student, and I’ve found peace.

My time here at this college has been great. I graduated with a degree in radio-television-broadcasting. I was even on this college’s radio station, KSYM 90.1 FM.

My first time on air, I was nervous. When you’re in the booth, it can be a little intimidating, but after my first week on the air, I wasn’t nervous anymore.

My dream was to own a radio station; however, I’m starting to fall in love with journalism.

The last time this city hosted the Men’s Final Four in 2008, I participated in a sports writing workshop at the event. I decided to go not knowing what to expect.

At the end of the workshop, we all received different assignments to cover the games. I was one of the lucky ones and was picked to cover the Final Four All-Star game at the Alamodome. I could not believe I was sitting courtside eating nachos and drinking a Coke while trying to cover the event. I had the time of my life.

Because of my experiences, for the last five summers, I have worked as a camera operator with the San Antonio Missions baseball team. What makes the job entertaining is watching the fans. We have the best fans in baseball. Whether we are winning or losing, watching those fans during the games can be entertaining because they are so energetic.

I may not have a lot of friends, but that’s OK. I’m fine just having a core group of friends that I see at the gym that are more like a family to me.

Looking back, I’m glad I did not give up on my goals of finishing high school and getting a college education. Departments like disability support services here on campus help me in accomplishing my goal by providing note-taking and offering counseling; however, those services have suffered due to budget constraints.

My goal is a bachelor’s degree from the University of the Incarnate Word. As for my career plan, it has evolved over the years. So I don’t know what my future will hold.

My parents did not force me to go to college. That was my choice to make. Walking the stage during graduation, I was on cloud nine knowing I’m the only one in my family with a college degree.

If you think I’m going to stop there with an associate degree, think again …


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