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About Sickkids
About SickKids

October 21, 2016

Jacob Tremblay and SickKids patients talk life with facial differences

By Tenney Loweth, Intern, Communications & Public Affairs

Current and former patients from the craniofacial and cleft lip and palate programs at SickKids gathered with excitement in Marnie’s Studio on October 18 for a private visit with 10-year old actor Jacob Tremblay. One clutched her copy of the book Wonder, about a boy with Treacher Collins syndrome named Auggie. Tremblay plays Auggie in an upcoming movie based on the book, and reached out to SickKids before filming asking for help in researching the role.

Jacob Tremblay and pen pals.
Pen pals (left to right) Katarina Finnegan; Kariym Joachim; Jade Laird-Umanetz; Christine De la Cruz; Shivani Sewpersaiel; Jacob Tremblay; Pauline Beal; Kate Atkinson; Amanda Lizon and Vanessa Wiens.

SickKids patients were eager to share their stories with Jacob, and took the time earlier this year to write letters to him about what it’s like to have a facial difference. His visit was a chance for them to meet in person and continue the conversation.

“Our patients were so moved to know how seriously you took this role, and that you wanted to know from them, first hand, what it is like to live with a facial difference,” SickKids social worker Farah Sheikh told Jacob. “The kids eagerly wrote you letters to share their experiences and hoped that they would be meaningful and impactful.”

Photo of Jacob Tremblay and mother reading patient's letters.
Jacob and his mother, Christina Tremblay, show how patients’ letters were saved in a special binder. Jacob said he re-read them every day on set.

Their hopes were exceeded when Jacob and his mother expressed their immense gratitude for the letters. Each one was saved carefully in a binder they flipped through to show the group. Jacob told everyone how much reading the letters helped him understand what his character was going through. He said he re-read them before filming difficult scenes and even shared them with many people on set including the director, his fellow actors and the author of the book. Everyone learned a lot from knowing their stories, he told the group.

“I had the best time at SickKids hanging out with this group of amazing young people,” Jacob said. “I read their letters in preparation to play Auggie and every day on set.  They were with me during the fun scenes and the tough scenes, so it was so special to finally meet them all in person. I will always be grateful for their stories they shared with me!”

Jacob Tremblay and friends playing broken telephone.
Kariym Joachim, Christina Tremblay, Jacob Tremblay and Dr. Christopher Forrest, Chief of the Division of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, try their best at a game of broken telephone.

Speaking with Jacob was very meaningful for the group of eight children, teens and young adults, many of whom made a special trip to SickKids for the visit. Most were already huge fans of the book, and they were happy to see that it was not only being turned into a movie, but that someone they liked so much would represent people like them.

“It’s so great to meet someone who’s playing a person with a facial difference - you don’t see that every day,” said Jade Laird-Umanetz, a former SickKids patient.  “And to have it played so effectively and powerfully will be really great to see.”

Jacob Tremblay circle of pen pals.
Patients from the craniofacial and cleft lip and palate programs, along with some parents and staff, gathered around to chat with Jacob Tremblay.

Current patient Kate Atkinson agreed. “It’s amazing that somebody so prominent wanted to know more about us,” she said. “We’re just normal kids. But he has the platform to make a difference and spread a message about facial differences.”