(NEW YORK) — At first glance, Nadia Iles, 14, exudes an air of confidence that many other girls her age lack. But that confidence was hard won.
Teased about her big ears since she was 7 years old, Iles found school a nightmare. Her classmates tormented her, and she couldn’t bear to look at herself in the mirror.
“I felt horrible. I felt like I was like dirt,” she said, in an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America. “They said that I have the biggest ears that they’ve ever seen. They called me ‘Dumbo,’ ‘elephant ears.’”
The teasing and bullying escalated, and Iles, of Cummings, Ga., started to believe the negativity.
“I kind of got into this shell and I actually skipped school a lot,” she said. “I made excuses. I would say my stomach hurt, say that I was sick even though I wasn’t.”
Iles would cry a lot on the way home from the bus stop and at night before she went to sleep. It got so bad that she even contemplated suicide.
“I actually did think about suicide but I wasn’t pushed, I didn’t really want to. I didn’t think that was the solution,” she said.
Iles’ troubles came as a shock to her mother. Because Lynda Iles had recently been laid off, and had a 9-year-old son, Joshua, who was battling cerebral palsy, Nadia didn’t want to bother her mother with her problems.
“I’m heartbroken about it,” Lynda Iles said, speaking of her daughter’s torment, including her thoughts of suicide. “I didn’t realize that it was that bad. She would mostly say that she has migraines.”
Eventually, Nadia told her mother everything and begged for surgery to pin her ears back. Lynda Iles couldn’t afford it, so she turned to the Little Baby Face Foundation, a Manhattan-based organization that provides free surgery for children with facial deformities who have a financial need.
Dr. Thomas Romo, the president of the organization, found Nadia’s story compelling. He performed surgery on her in June, pinning her ears back, and also operating on her nose and chin. Romo performed $40,000 worth of work for free.
Asked if they were concerned that operating on Nadia conveyed the message that other bullied children needed to have plastic surgery, Romo replied: “She wasn’t picked to have her surgery because she was bullied. She was picked for her surgery because of her deformities.”
“It was just something that we chose to do. It’s no different than somebody having teeth that require braces,” Lynda Iles added.
Nadia no longer has a problem looking at herself in the mirror.
“I see a new me, a beautiful girl,” she said.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Susan Scutti, CNN
Magdala Louissaint, KPVI
Jamiel Lynch and Debra Goldschmidt, CNN