Everybody wants someone who understands them, and everyone wants to feel like they’re not totally alone in the world …
But that can be difficult when you’re dealing with an incredibly rare condition.
Austin Niehus, from Craig, Colorado, was born with Goldenhar Syndrome, a congenital defect associated with deformations of the facial features, including the eyes, ears, and vertebrae. The odds of being born with the rare condition are somewhere between one in 3,000 and one in 25,000, according to TLC.
As a result, Austin, now a teenager, has always stood out from his peers—and throughout his life has undergone extensive medical treatments.
According to a GoFundMe page set up to help his family pay for his medical bills, Austin has undergone 55 surgeries throughout his life.
Austin also says he’s been bullied throughout his life because of his condition, but he’s never let that hold him back from being himself.
“High school has been pretty tough. A lot of hard work, but it’s been OK,” Austin told Steamboat Today in 2016, when he was 15. “I started playing basketball last year. It’s really fun getting out there. Just have fun.”
His mother, Kera Niehus, says that her son is always putting himself out there and hoping people understand.
“Austin’s [open] to explaining to people, ‘This is what I have, but [really] I’m just like you,” Kera told the Craig Daily Press.
But still, it was a battle Austin fought mostly alone—there was never anyone around who was going through the same thing, who looked like him.
But all that changed after a visit from a new friend.
In 2016, Austin looked out his window, eagerly waiting.
Then, as he saw a car pull up in his driveway, he eagerly ran outside with his family to greet the visitors.
And the 15-year-old was thrilled when he saw a familiar face step out of the vehicle …
It was a girl named Elena, who also had Goldenhar Syndrome!
The visit was part of the TLC series Two in a Million, a show that pairs up two people facing the same rare medical disorder.
Austin and 12-year-old Elena had apparently already been in contact with each other, but this was the first time they had seen each other in person. Elena had taken a plane trip with her parents to visit him in Colorado.
The two young people hugged, delighted to finally meet someone who looks like them.
The two families went inside the house for hot chocolate, and Elena handed Austin a gift. They formed an immediate bond, no longer feeling so isolated about their condition.
“Oh my gosh, he’s right there!” Elena said on the show. “I can actually touch him! I was just really happy to be able to talk to him in person.”
“She’s awesome,” Austin said. “She’s the type of person you could be really, really good friends with. Like, dang!”
The show gave them a surprise: they got to go snow tubing, which allowed the two new friends to hang out and get to know each other.
“We hung out a lot,” Austin later told the Craig Daily Press. He said they bonded over topics from their favorite video games to the bullying they’ve experienced.
Even after the show ended, they’ve kept in touch with Skype calls and texts.
His mother added that she also got a lot out of the experience by meeting parents who have gone through the same trials.
“It’s nice to have a sounding board, someone who knows exactly what I’m talking about,” Kera said. “It’s so nice, I can’t even put it into words. Our families just kind of joined together.”
And Austin and Elena even made a video to fight bullying.
The two spoke of their own experiences with bullying and asked viewers to treat people with respect and kindness.
“She’s been through a lot, and I’ve been through a lot,” Austin says. “So spread the word to stop bullying. It is the worst thing ever.”
These two might still face bullying, medical treatments and other challenges in the road ahead, but at least now they’ll always have someone they can turn to who understands exactly how they feel.
Watch the video below: