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Local family awaits how Hollywood tells story about cranial facial birth defect

Gabriel Hafter, a sophomore at Adelson Educational Campus, was born with Treacher Collins Syndrome, a cranial facial birth defect that affects about one birth in every 50,000. (KSNV)

The much-anticipated movie about a little boy who just wants to fit in opens Thursday nationwide.

"Wonder," which stars Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson, centers on a boy who doesn't look like everyone else.

While the movie is fiction, the specific birth defect it deals with — Treacher Collins Syndrome — is real. And one Las Vegas teenager is anxious to see if Hollywood got it right.

Gabriel Hafter, a sophomore at Adelson Educational Campus, was born with the cranial facial birth defect that affects about one birth in every 50,000. It is characterized by underdeveloped cheekbones and chin. it can also affect the eyes and ears.

“When I was in elementary school, there was a kid who made fun of me,” Gabriel said. “But because of the people I was around, it didn't affect me that much.”

When the movie opens, the Hafter family say they hope it spreads awareness.

“It's like watching our journey on the screen, and I think it'll be emotional for our entire family,” said Jackie Hafter, Gabriel’s mother. “But I'm glad they're turning it into a movie because the message behind it is huge.”

So far, Gabriel has undergone 16 facial surgeries, something that's kept him sidelined from many competitive sports.

RELATED | Julia Roberts says 'Wonder' shows radical power of kindness

During the summer, however, acting as team manager for a youth basketball team, Gabriel experienced his own Hollywood moment — sinking a 3-pointer when the team put him in for one key play.

“It was exciting,” he said.

Gabriel also has become an expert on his own medical issues and become a regular speaker in local classrooms.

As for the possibility of Gabriel one day undergoing full plastic surgery, his mother says probably not.

“He's always said he is who he is,” Jackie Hafter said.

Like the actors on the big screen, Gabriel’s message is about acceptance, the "Wonder" of a 15-year-old boy wise beyond his years.

“I want to spread awareness for people to be kinder and nicer,” he said.

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