When the nurses finally brought out Yi Lianxi's son after she gave birth to him, she thought he was wearing a mask. When she learned the boy has a rare birth defect that split his face and made it look like he was wearing a mask, she couldn't help but cry.
The boy, Huikang, was born in March 2009 in China's Hunan province with a severe transverse facial cleft that formed two gaps on either side of his mouth and up the side of his face, reports the Daily Mail.
The mother, who comes from a family of farmers, gave birth when she was 23. At the time, she said she had undergone several pre-pregnancy ultrasounds with normal results. The last thing she was expecting was a birth defect, but when the doctors refused to bring out her son after she gave birth, she knew something was wrong.
After requesting over and over to see the baby, doctors finally brought him out. When she finally laid eyes on him, her "whole body was numb," she said.
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"I saw the child was crying, and I cried too," she told the Changsha Evening News, reports the Daily Mail. "I felt my heart had broken. Why would this happen to me?"
Neighbors and family members encouraged her to abandon Huikang somewhere, far from their home in rural China. Others ruthlessly made fun of him, and the media dubbed him "mask boy."
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Facial clefts occur when a portion of the baby's face does not form properly during pregnancy, though it is most commonly seen as a cleft lip or cleft palate, which occurs in thousands of babies each year in the U.S. alone, notes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Huikang's condition is both incredibly rare and serious.
Fortunately, his family was able to raise enough money from public donations for multiple surgeries to give him a shot at living a relatively normal and pain-free life.
"Not only his soft tissues were damaged, broken and moved, his temporal bone, cheekbones, sphenoid bone and upper jaw were all damaged," said Dr. Wang Duquan, who worked at the hospital that treated Huikang in 2010.
Doctors sealed Huikang's clefts after the first surgery, though they said that it would take at least 10 years of his facial bones growing before they would know if it was successful.
There is no update on his condition.