A former high school beauty queen describes a life beyond her wildest dreams married to her soul mate and as mum to their two beloved children, even though she was born blind and with “half a face”. 2003 was a stand out year for Sara Morford, 36, as she won her second beauty pageant and met her husband, cheese factory worker Roger Morford, 38, on a camping trip with her sister, Angela.
Grabbing love with both hands, Sara has never let having the rare congenital disorder, Goldenhar syndrome – a birth defect causing the right side of her face to be undeveloped and leaving her blind and with a curved spine – hold her back.
Delighting in her role as a full-time mum to Brandon, 13, and Alison, 11, Sara said: “A lot of people will look at me and think I live a miserable life, but I have the best support system in the world Everyone wanted me to live a normal life, but I feel like I had lived an extraordinary life.
“I have a husband who loves me and wouldn’t change anything about me, and I have two children who are everything I’ve ever wanted.” As a result of Goldenhar which, according to the National Library of Medicine is estimated to affect between one in 3,500 and one in 25,000 babies at birth, Sara has had extensive surgery, including five operations on her right eye and two reconstructive jaw operations.
Yet she insists she has led a “normal, healthy life,” saying: “I had a lot of surgery growing up, but I feel like I was healthy otherwise.” When Sara was born on February 27 ,1986, weighing 5lb 12oz, doctors had no idea about her condition until her mum Sue Dean, 61, and dad Steven Dean, 63, both retired carers, held her for the first time and noticed her face “looked different.”
Tests revealed two holes in her heart, a missing right eye and she was completely blind – leading to the Goldenhar diagnosis at a few months old. Mainly affecting the ears, eyes and spine, with symptoms including facial asymmetry, a partially formed or absent ear, spinal abnormalities and noncancerous growths on the eye, according to Goldenhar UK, it also caused Sara to have delays in speaking.
She said: “I never felt like I had limitations, though. I was always crawling around and sneaking out. I was always a little daredevil. Now that I have kids who do the same, I think that’s crazy. But I can’t keep an eye on them, so I have an excuse.”
While Sara needed speech therapy as she did not talk until she was two, once she started she said she “never stopped talking”. She went to public school in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, where she grew up with her siblings, Angela Strayer, 37, a call center worker and Steven Dean Jr, 33, a chef, and met her best friend, insurance worker Sarah Smith, 35 .
While some people bullied her for her appearance, as the syndrome caused her face to become floppy on one side, Sara said most of her classmates were incredibly supportive of her disabilities. She said: “Despite it all, I was quite lucky. There were a few bullies, more in high school who made fun of me and how I looked.
“But in elementary school I was able to educate my class and teach them about blindness. Some people got really excited when it was their day to help. I met my best friend Sarah in kindergarten and we have been inseparable ever since.”
In school, Sara joined the choir and was active in extracurricular activities – becoming top cookie seller for the girl scouts. She had her first boyfriend when she was 16 and while the relationship did not last long, she felt confident about herself and won two beauty pageants – one in 1999 and the other in 2003.
Recalling the advice her sister Angela gave her about boys, she said: “I used to talk to my sister about boys, to get advice about everything. If I ever needed help, she was always there. She taught me how to shave my legs , which was a big deal for a woman who can’t see. My sister was a very, very big help.”
Sara met her husband of 17 years, Roger, on a fishing trip at their grandparents’ lakeside cabin with her sister in the summer of 2003. But they were more interested in reeling each other in – bonding over their love for the rock band Third Eye Blind.
Sara said: “I met Roger through my sister. We all went camping together – a group of four – and everyone wanted to go fishing. But I don’t fish. And Roger doesn’t like to fish. We sat out on the beach at the picnic table and talked about music.
“We both like a lot of rock music, that’s what we bonded over. Music from the 90s that really brought us together. We thought the music was so much better back then. We talked about Third Eye Blind and anytime I hear them I think of him.”
Following the trip, Sara plucked up the courage to ask Roger to go to the homecoming dance with her at the end of the year and he surprised her days beforehand by asking her to be his girlfriend. Recalling the moment, she said: “Just randomly, in September, he asked me if I wanted to be his girlfriend.
“It felt awesome, as there was someone who wanted to be with me. But my relationship before him didn’t end so well so I was a little nervous. I feel like he was patient with me and gave me time and he was a good choice. At our homecoming we danced and we danced, it was amazing. I don’t get to dance very often, so it was nice.”
Sara moved in with Roger before her final year of high school and a month after she graduated in June 2005, which she described as “one of the proudest moments” of her life, the loved up couple decided to tie the knot in front of friends and family.
Sara said: “We knew we wanted to get married, so we just said let’s get married on July 2 as we wanted to have a summer wedding. Roger’s not the most romantic person. But romantic to me is someone who goes to the store and sees something and thinks of me and gets it for me.”
She added: “Like some chocolate, I don’t need anything extravagant. On my wedding day, I was so nervous I didn’t sleep at all the night before. But the show went on.”
The couple spent a couple of years going on trips and enjoying each other’s company, but Sara always yearned to have children and in November 2008 they had their first son Brandon, who was born healthy and weighing 6lb 7oz. Then two years later, in November 2010, Alison was born weighing 5lb 2oz.
Sara said: “We always knew we wanted children, but we waited a little while as we wanted to do some things for us. I was worried when I was younger that I’d never be able to have children, but I was so thankful and so relieved when I held both of them for the first time.
“Because I was blind, I didn’t think it would be easy and it seemed so scary. I didn’t think it would be physically possible or mentally. I thought people would think I couldn’t be a parent because of my disability .”
She added: “I was nervous too, as having a child was something I’d never been through before, but it was an honor. Being blind, I knew that being a parent was going to be different. I wouldn’t be able to watch over my children. But as long as I loved them and they loved me, I knew we’d be okay.”
One of the biggest challenges as a blind mum was being left alone with the children when they needed their nappies changed, according to Sara. Practice made perfect, but she recalls Roger once returning from buying nappies in the early days to find Brandon covered “from head-to-toe in poo”.
Sara said: “I always knew that being a parent would have its challenges. When babies are first born, their poop is so runny and disgusting. When Brandon was around one, Roger was a wonderful help and went to the store.
“And Brandon took this giant poop. By the time Roger came back Brandon was covered in poop from head to toe. But I didn’t get too down and just laughed about it. It was an experience to learn from.”
Sara had two operations in November last year which left her hospitalised for over a month on a ventilator and she is due to go under the knife later this year for a third time to correct the right side of her jaw. But she takes medical challenges in her stride and says her main focus in life now is to enjoy her children growing up and carving out their path in life.
She said: “I know that in my life I was meant to have these two kids. And I’m so excited to see what brilliant lives they will have themselves. I want to see what career paths they take and if they will go to college.”
As far as Roger is concerned, Sara is the most beautiful wife and mother anyone could wish for. He said: “If our relationship didn’t work it would never have lasted as long as it has. She’s the love of my life. And she’s an incredible mother to both of our children.”
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