12 News photographer battles rare syndrome highlighted in new movie

12 News photojournalist underwent cranial surgery and talks about his life experience of "Wonder."

The new movie "Wonder" is hitting theaters, starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson, telling the story of a young boy with a craniofacial condition as he enters public school for the first time.

The story hits especially close to home for one of our coworkers here at 12 News.

Last year, we brought a story about photographer Rich Prange, and today we're checking back in with him about life after surgery.

Like the character in the movie, Rich was born with a craniofacial birth defect. As he first explained a couple years ago, life wasn't easy.

Rich was in and out of hospitals with surgeries to fix complications with his eyes, nose and throat. There were other complications that surgeries could not fix: his peers.

"When I was about five or six years old, I was at the bus stop. This girl said 'Don't look at me when you talk to me,'" Rich recalled. "That was the first time I ever was like 'Why would she say that?'"

He drew strength from his parents and brothers, but those teenage years are tough for anyone.

"There was the day I finally just told my parents 'I'm suicidal. I need help,"" Rich said.

He got help, got a degree and became an award-winning photojournalist, and he took his love for comedy onstage.

But Rich also had a goal: Surgery that would reposition his forehead and eyebrows and add volume to his eye sockets and cheeks.

"A lot of times, there's a misconception of having the surgery for self-esteem. That's not why I'm doing it," he said. "More of an opportunity that's there."

The day he went under represented years of planning and more than $20,000 in donations from loved ones.

Three days later, he returned home to his loyal dog and family and began the recovery process.

Now, one year later we're catching up with Rich as the journey continues.

"I'm happy with the results," he said. "The goal of the surgery was to create more symmetry. I don't have any false ideas that all of a sudden I'm Brad Pitt."

Friends tell Rich that he seems more self-confident and people seem more confident around him.

"People will engage me more," he said. "They'll look into my eyes more."

He's also back to comedy.

"It was a crossroads. I honestly did not know if I would ever preform again because I didn't know if people laughed with me prior to the surgery because of the way I looked. Turns out they didn't, you know. People still found me funny."

Like the movie, Rich demonstrates that physical birth defects don't determine fate.

For those growing up today with physical birth defects, Rich just wants them to get a fair shake.

"My only message would have to be directed at families, friends and people in the public," Rich said. "Give them a chance. They didn't ask to look the way they do. All they may be asking for is an opportunity to show what they can do."

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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