Inside an old house in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Denver, Colo., two-year-old Willow Tonacchio is experiencing something new.
Willow was born with a cleft lip, a cleft pallet, and a cleft gum.
“It’s not a disease or a syndrome it’s a birth defect,” Michelle Tonacchio, Willow’s mother said.
“She had to have surgery when she was three months old to repair the lip, and at 10 months old surgery to repair the roof of her mouth,” she added.
“When she’s about 10 she’ll have another surgery to repair her gum, and then she’ll probably get a lot of braces—two or three rounds of braces to help straighten out her teeth.”
On Thursday, Willow was at her photo shoot.
“Those pictures are precious,” Michelle said. “I feel like every single one he showed me captured her personality, her beauty and her smile.”
He, is Zack Urenda, and he’s more like Willow than it might seem.
“I feel like every time I’m meeting one of these kids I’m staring at a version of myself,” Urenda, who was also born with a cleft lip, said.
Willow’s photoshoot is part of Urenda’s mission to raise awareness for people born cleft affected.
“One in every 700 babies are born with a cleft lip, cleft pallet or both,” Urenda said.
“We thought it was a third world country thing, not something that happens in the U.S.,” Michelle said.
Urenda hopes his pictures of Willow will help the word realize it’s not how a person looks that matters, but how they make us feel.
“Yea we look different, but different is not bad,” he said.
Learn more about Urenda’s mission here: www.1in700.com