My name is Christopher Stadulis and I was born with a cleft lip and palate. Like so many of the kids that myFace helps, I know all too well the difficulty one can have growing up with a birth defect, disability or some sort of physical difference.
Within the first few years of my life I had already undergone two surgeries to repair my cleft lip and palate. One when I was first born while still in the hospital, and the second at three years old. Even though both surgeries provided me with a full upper lip, I still had a major scar and a difference that was visible to everyone.
As a child, I didn’t accept my medical condition well. I was always self-conscious, had low self-esteem and was pretty much a loner. I was constantly teased, called names such as scarface and freak and even came close to being killed on two separate occasions. Looking back, a support group like those provided by myFace would have helped me so much through this difficult time. To make matters worse; I grew up in a dysfunctional home, was quite poor and had a father that had his own issues.
By the age of thirteen, my father signed me up for martial arts (Taekwon-Do). That’s when a new chapter in my life began. I was accepted by everyone and had the proper guidance and excellent role models needed to succeed. In the years prior, I always ended up hurt or disappointed by someone, but martial arts was the first thing in my life that didn’t fail me. For the first time I was loved, unconditionally, and I was able to love back knowing I would not be harmed emotionally. This built up my confidence, determination and is when I began to learn that anything is possible, if I put my mind to it.
After studying Taekwon-Do for over ten years and winning trophies and medals in over forty tournaments nationwide, my life took a turn in another direction. I always knew I wanted to serve my community or country in some capacity, so I attended John Jay College of Criminal Justice, with the intent of obtaining a career in law enforcement. I set my sights high and took exams for the NY State Police, MTA Bridge and Tunnels and NYC Fire Department and ultimately became one of “New York’s Bravest.” The day I officially became a firefighter was a proud moment and monumental achievement, given my difficult childhood and the physical impairment I had when I was born.
I was not only put in a position to save lives and protect property from fires, but less than a year in the firehouse, I was contacted by the NY Blood Center, asking if I would donate my bone marrow to help save a one year old child with leukemia who didn’t have much longer to live. I did and have been told the child, who is now a young adult, is doing fine. It felt great. After having numerous people in my life help me in my earlier years, I was able to now help someone else.
While working as a NYC firefighter, I underwent three more facial reconstructive surgeries to further improve my appearance, which lead me to begin pursuing another passion – acting. Over the course of eight years, I’ve booked roles on over twenty-five TV shows and twenty-five films. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with Tom Cruise, Christopher Meloni, Jennifer Aniston, Matthew Fox, Matt Bomer and others. I’ve also co-written and co-produced a TV series, ‘Compromised,’ which I am pitching to studio executives of cable and network channels, have co-written and co-produced a short film titled, ‘Burning Down,’ which can be viewed for free on Youtube and deals with disabilities and acceptance, and continue to write scripts of various genres.
I recently retired from the NYC Fire Department due to numerous surgeries from on-the-job injuries I’ve suffered, as well as illnesses I obtained down at Ground Zero on and after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. My illnesses have also hindered my ability to continue acting, but I am proud of all I have accomplished. I know that had I not had such a hard time growing up and then such great role models to inspire me and instill good values, my life may have gone in a very different direction – one that I might not be so proud of. No two people are born into the same exact situation. We are all dealt a different hand and we can either fold or work hard for what we want, stay focused, and create the life we want. We have more control over our destiny than most realize. Positive thinking creates positive things.
I encourage anyone who is going through or has gone through a similar experience to find what you are passionate about; keep the friends who believe in you and accept you for who you are, close to you; believe in yourself and most importantly, know that it’s a person’s heart and mind that matters most; not what they look like on the outside. Our character defines us; not what we look like.