Transforming a face can transform a life. That’s why Sauk County advocates are raising money for the World Craniofacial Foundation.
On Sept. 29 a concert featuring Jimmy Fortune of the Statler Brothers at Ho-Chunk Casino will raise money for the organization, which gets people with birth defects the surgery they need.
“There’s help out there, if you know where to look,” said Jack Accola of Prairie du Sac.
A birth defect left him with a tiny nose and eyes set far apart. He has undergone 25 facial surgeries, but his life didn’t change until 1986, when the doctor who founded the World Craniofacial Foundation radically altered his appearance — and his outlook on life.
“He changed the world,” Accola said.
This month’s concert marks the third he has organized to benefit WCF. Each time he has raised more than $15,000 in sponsorship money. This time he’s getting help from Sandy Gavin of the Baraboo Area Chamber of Commerce, whose daughter Sierra has undergone several surgeries to repair her hard and soft palates.
“It’s amazing,” Gavin said of the difference surgery made. “She looks beautiful.”
Gavin and Accola said the public doesn’t see birth defects’ prevalence because parents, looking to protect their children from teasing, hide them from view. Accola underwent six surgeries by age 8. Even when surgical techniques advanced in 1971, his appearance continued to make him feel self-conscious.
“I had this shield around me. I had to help other people crack through to help them see what’s underneath,” he said.
His sister connected him with Dr. Kenneth Salyer, the Texas plastic surgeon who went on to create WCF and has performed 16,000 surgeries. Accola couldn’t have afforded the surgery, which moved his eyes closer together and gave him a new nose, without help. He began organizing concerts to ensure others get aid, too.
“Knowing someone else can get the benefit from what I do, that works for me,” Accola said.
Gavin’s family had no history of birth defects. She only learned of Sierra’s cleft palate upon her birth. Her baby girl had surgery every three months. Friends would stop her at the grocery store wanting to see the baby, and Gavin would lift the blanket only after informing them of Sierra’s condition.
“It was emotional,” Gavin said. “You’d take two steps forward and one step back every time.”
She met Accola as he was soliciting support for a concert, and eagerly joined his effort.
“It hit home for me instantly,” she said.
Gavin connected him with Ho-Chunk Casino, which is providing the 900-seat venue where Fortune and fiddler Lacie Carpenter — another Salyer patient — will perform. She’s also helping him line up volunteers and sell tickets, which are available at the Chamber of Commerce office and online.
She said it’s critical to develop funds for families whose children need surgery — and awareness that help is available.
“You’ve got to have the resources, or people don’t know they’re out there,” Gavin said.