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Fla. family confronts daughter's condition with hope, love



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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When Tammy Wetmore was pregnant, she and her husband, Tom, sensed something was wrong.

But nothing prepared them for the birth of Juliana. She was born without a face. As much as 40% of the bones in her face are missing. ''She has no upper jaw, no cheek bones, no eye sockets, and she's missing the corner of her ear,'' says Tom Wetmore, who is in the Navy.

Her birth defect is called Treacher Collins syndrome, a hereditary condition. Doctors say it's the worst case they've seen.

No matter what, these new parents had a wish. ''That if there was something wrong, she wouldn't be alone. We wanted to make sure she felt loved,'' Tom Wetmore says.

One of the toughest challenges is getting people to look past the defects and see the little girl.

''I just wish people would ask questions. Don't just stare,'' Tammy Wetmore says. ''I guess the most hurtful thing came not long ago -- a little girl said she was disgusting.''

Juliana has to eat through her stomach, and she has a tracheotomy to breathe. Already, less than two years into her life, she's had 14 reconstructive surgeries. She could need at least 30 more.

Every time she goes to the hospital, doctors make a mold of her head and then reconstruct her skull to figure out the next step.

It's a lifelong process that's draining for Tammy and Tom Wetmore. Still, they're thankful and full of love for their sweet child.

''God never gives you more than you can handle. I figure she has a lot to show everyone . . . to show the world,'' Tom Wetmore says.

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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