Stratford girl with skin condition gives mother strength

Dave Stewart dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on June 25, 2014

Tracy Simpson, left, and her nine-year-old daughter Maria have a skin condition called vitiligo.

©Guardian photo by Heather Taweel

Tracy Simpson of Stratford has been bullied, called a zebra, a cow, asked if she has leprosy or if she was burnt.

Inspired by her nine-year-old daughter, Maria, Simpson decided to tell their story to help spread the word about World Vitiligo Day, which takes place today.

Tracy and Maria have vitiligo, an autoimmune condition that turns skin white. It occurs when the cells responsible for skin pigmentation die or are unable to function.

It doesn’t hurt, physically, and it isn’t contagious.

It can hurt emotionally. The condition can be noticed quite easily by anyone.

Nearly two per cent of the world’s population has it.

Michael Jackson, the late pop singer, had it.

Winnie Harlow, better known as the winner of America’s Next Top Model, has it, too.

Maria told The Guardian on Tuesday it was her idea to speak to the media.

“I want to show people that it’s OK to be different,’’ Maria said. “You don’t have to be scared of people judging you. It’s OK to be just who you are.’’

Tracy struggles to maintain her composure listening to Maria’s words.

“I’ve learned so much from Maria. I’ve been scared my whole life to go out in public in a short-sleeved shirt,’’ Tracy said.

“It makes me cry because when she started getting spots I was so scared. It’s your flesh and blood. I thought ‘What have I done? I’ve given her this. I was worried about how I’d be able to support her through it because I’ve always struggled with it.’’

Tracy said she has struggled with self-esteem issues her entire life, dealing with people who bullied her because she looked different. She wants to be strong for her little girl but, as things turned out, it’s Maria that is giving her mother strength.

“I was born strong,’’ Maria says matter-of-factly. “I think it’s OK to be different.’’

The precocious nine-year-old explains that she handles every question from other children with relative ease.

“If everyone was the same the world would be a boring place and it wouldn’t be fun.’’

Tracy said people aren’t necessarily trying to be cruel. She realizes they stare, sometimes, because they’re simply curious.

“Even good people stare. It’s natural. If we can just get this story out there, have a person say ‘Hey, I saw you in the paper’ instead of staring. Then we’re getting somewhere.’’

Tracy said her daughter has always worried more about others than herself. Maria talks about raising money for children in Haiti and says she next wants to help raise money for an orphanage.

Tracy said she’s thought about telling their story many times before but just couldn’t find the strength to pick up the phone.

On Tuesday, Tracy found that strength — in the form of her nine-year-old daughter.

“She has already asked if she can take the newspaper to school with her on Wednesday. She’s putting it right out there,’’ said mom.

dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/DveStewart

Vitiligo facts

- It’s a disease in which the pigment cells of the skin, melanocytes, are destroyed in certain areas.

- Results in depigmented or white patches of skin in any location on the body.

- Can be focal and localized to one area, or it may affect several different areas of the body.

- The exact cause is unknown, although most experts believe that it is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys certain cells within the body.

- Most people who have vitiligo will develop the condition prior to age 40; about half develop it before age 20.

- It tends to run in families.

- It is sometimes associated with other medical conditions, including thyroid dysfunction.

- It is not painful and doesn’t have significant health consequences.

- Some medical treatments can reduce the severity of the condition but it can be difficult to cure.

- A petition to bring more awareness and raise funds needed for research and education can be signed at www.25june.org/en/signatures.new.