By Dan Howlett @DanHowlett85
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Videographer / director: Tyler Kaufman
Producer: Dan Howlett, Nick Johnson
Editor: Jack Stevens
Gabriel Cooper was born with Pierre Robin Syndrome, which meant his jaw did not fully form – leading to a facial disfigurement.
After 19 years of looking different Gabriel is preparing for plastic surgery, which could make him look identical to his brother Haidin.
Gabriel, who lives in Alabama in the USA said: “Even though we look different on the outside, we are still twins on the inside.
“I’m obviously different from Haidin, but I would just say I’m unique because of this condition.
“I think I realised I was different when we were around 12 – it’s not just that I look different - I have to go to the doctors a lot and he doesn’t have to.
“There are psychological problems also – to this day I don’t like taking photos of myself, never have.”
The devastating condition was spotted while the twins were in their mother’s womb and she was given the option to terminate Gabriel.
“I had to think for two months about keeping him,” said Ramona.
“It wasn’t that I had a problem with him being disabled but I feared that one twin could grow to despise the other.
“The boys have had their problems but I’ve never regretted keeping Gabriel – he is a wonderful son.”
The difficult revelation led to Ramona having a change of heart on her baby’s name.
She added: “Haidin was always Haidin but I thought Gabriel was going to be called Madison - but as a woman of faith I wanted him to have a guardian angel so named him after Gabriel.
“When he was born all I could see was his hair. I couldn’t see what the problem was but then it became obvious that he didn’t really have a jaw line.
“I really didn’t know how people would respond to him or how the boys would be together.”
Unfortunately the family had to undergo counseling when the boys were teenagers because of their constant fighting.
After years of therapy it was established that Haidin blamed himself for Gabriel’s condition, fearing he had kicked his brother in the jaw while they were in the womb.
Haidin said: “I felt pretty good when I realised I had nothing to do with Gabriel’s appearance.
“I’m not sure why I felt responsible but I just did – it was good when we established that wasn’t the case.
“Gabriel and I are close but we have had difficulties at times - I don’t think he has ever resented me for not having the condition.”
Unfortunately Gabriel did feel some resentment towards Haidin but turned his feelings into healthy competition.
“I can’t say that I have always resented Haidin but it is difficult that he looks so different to me,” added Gabriel.
“When I realised I was different it was difficult but then I thought it was cool.
“I have, in everyone else’s eyes, a normal twin brother so if I do anything better than him they’re going to take note.
“I wanted to beat him at things, I thought that was cool.
“I resented him for a time but then I turned that useless anger into something more useful.
“Facially I am different but if you ask him to do something then I can do it too.
“I think that’s what motivated me to become better at school and sports, people shouldn’t judge me because of my facial difference and I hope I’ve showed them that.”
Gabriel tries to stay positive despite a lifetime of being made the subject of ridicule because of his appearance.
“I walk in to a store and a child will look up at me and make fun of me, other children they just stare and don’t say a word,” added Gabriel.
Their problems reached a head in school when the boys would often be involved in fights because of the cruel jibes.
Haidin added: “Other kids couldn’t figure out how to treat Gabriel because he looked different.
“They thought it was cool to provoke him, thinking back I was always angry – I hate people messing with my brother.”
Despite being involved in fights when he was younger Gabriel now has a way of dealing with bullies.
He added: “I’m a respectable young man, I still have people who see me and make fun of me on the spot but now I don’t pay any attention to them at all.”
Along with discrimination and cruel jibes Gabriel also gets annoyed when people try to overcompensate for his condition.
He added: “People will try to tell me it’s completely normal but that upsets me because I can very easily look in the mirror and see the problem, I can see the difference.
“I know I’m not normal let’s be real about this, don’t lie to me.”
The cruelty was even extended to his mother Ramona who is often accused of doing something during her pregnancy that led to the condition.
Ramona added: “People have always stared at him even when he was a baby.
“Someone came and told me I must have drank a lot during pregnancy because he had a clef palate.
“I’ve obviously been through the whole blame thing, did I do anything wrong, did I take enough vitamins, but there was nothing I could have done.”
The family will travel from Alabama to New York City in May where Gabriel will have surgery performed by The Baby Face Foundation to dramatically alter his appearance.
“I don’t know how my brother will look after the surgery but I know he will be cool with whatever happens,” added Haidin.
“I guess the goal of the surgery is to have Gabriel look more like me.”
But for his mother the cosmetic changes to Gabriel’s appearance are the least important.
Ramona added: “I don’t want Gabriel to feel like this surgery is to make him look like Haidin.
“As if the way he looks now is wrong and Haidin is right.
“I know that sounds unrealistic but I don’t want him to feel that’s the underlying objective.
“Yes they’re identical, physically that’s true, chromosomally that’s true 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.
“I don’t know how to explain it but I just know there is a part of me that feels that they don’t need to look alike.”