2019 ACPA Scholarship Recipient Casey was born with Treacher Collins Syndrome and cleft palate. Despite the many challenges Casey has faced, including undergoing 25 surgeries throughout his lifetime, the recent high school graduate is ready for his next chapter: college. In the fall, Casey will begin his first year at NC State University to pursue a career in medicine, in hopes of using his experiences as a patient to help others born with adversity.

“Not long ago, my parents had us watch an old ‘80s movie called Patch Adams. It got me thinking: I’ve had some of the best surgeons, but I have never had one say, ‘I’ve had this surgery before, here’s what to expect,’ or ‘I know how you feel.’ What if one of my surgeons had made me laugh to ease my fears? What if one of my doctors had looked like me? Then I realized–this is my purpose. I can use my gift of humor and my experiences to help others born with conditions like mine,” says Casey.

Casey’s gift of humor and bright perspective have helped him overcome numerous obstacles; doctors never thought Casey would be able to run competitively, let alone be in the top ten of his cross country team, but he did. Running cross country gave Casey the opportunity to confront his physical limitations and taught him the value of sportsmanship, perseverance and most importantly, the power of teamwork and friendship. He learned that working toward a goal is never easy, but when people work together and encourage one another, anything is possible.

Recently, Casey had the opportunity to experience a “first” that he will never forget. While most people may not remember their first bite into a cheeseburger (or any other food), Casey does. It was on his 18th birthday, after his last surgery, that he was able to bite into a cheeseburger like a “normal” person. After accomplishing such a milestone and looking ahead to his dream of becoming a surgeon, he thought to himself, “what is normal, anyways?”

“Nothing about my life has been typical or expected, or ‘normal.’ But that is OKAY. Now is the time to do something with my abnormal life. It’s one small cheeseburger bite for me, one giant bite into the future ahead,” says Casey.