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'Everyone is different': 7-year-old inspires peers with birthmark awareness

Reagan Massey is teaching her peers an invaluable lesson: How to love yourself.

ROCKY RIVER, Ohio — If you spend just a few minutes with 7-year-old Reagan Massey, it's easy to see her independent spirit.

She's talkative and spunky, and not afraid to stand up for herself and others. At Rocky River's Goldwood Primary School, Reagan is a beloved first grader.

When she moved here with her family from Wisconsin, the community welcomed the Masseys with open arms. Especially when it came to Reagan. 

"Dear Reagan, I love your polka dots. You are special," read one card from a classmate taped to Reagan's wall.

Reagan's "polka dots" appear every time she undergoes pulsed dye laser treatments for her vascular birthmarks. About one in 10 kids are born with a birthmark, but a vascular birthmark is much more rare.

She often gets her treatment at Cleveland Clinic Children's.

It's something Reagan's embraced since she was born.

"Everyone has something different about them," Reagan said. "Don't feel bad if someone tells you what makes you different ... they're different too."

Reagan's mother, Meghan Massey, remembers the day of her diagnosis.

"We were very unequipped parents, did not know what we were doing. And when she was born, she was covered head to toe in full birthmarks, particularly her face," Meghan told us.

While some kids with vascular birthmarks have other medical issues, Reagan was fine otherwise. The only thing that mattered to her parents, Meghan and Mike Massey, was her happiness.  

Credit: Meghan Massey

"There's lots of questions that people have, especially young kids are curious when they meet her, when they meet other kids with birthmarks. So being able to help people understand what birthmarks are, and how to, you know, talk to a kid and make them feel special, that has one, is really powerful to us ... something that's important to us," Meghan said.

Right after the Masseys moved to Northeast Ohio, Reagan had a scheduled pulsed dye treatment. 

"She kept asking, 'What are the kids gonna think? They're gonna think I look like a freak,'" Meghan said. "She looks pretty banged up after the treatment. She's bruised all over. So we just gave her teacher a word of warning and left it there."

But that's not where the school left it.

"Goldwood, and specifically her (first grade) teacher, Mrs. Ferguson, took it and ran with it, and every kid at the school was invited to wear polka dots the day Reagan came back and they all did," Meghan said.

The response from the community was overwhelming.

"We got pictures from all over the community of kids. Little kids at the bus stop here, we're out in their polka dots. The boys who are usually too cool were all rocking their polka dots. So she showed up at school, she didn't know this was gonna happen. All the kids are in polka dots. Her teacher decorated the door and it just like changed everything for her," Meghan said. "Then it just completely changed the whole context for her. And, we're forever, forever grateful for the school and teacher, and all the kids and great parents that were behind them."

"It just helps her have confidence. It helps her feel comfortable. And, at the end of the day, I think she said it best, it's just, 'If you see me, it's me, Reagan, you know? I'm still the same person,'" Mike Massey added.

It's the kind of gesture that makes the whole family want to give back. Reagan volunteers for Make-A-Wish. And by sharing Reagan's story, her family is helping other parents find great resources.

"One of the most valuable places for us to look was the Vascular Birthmark Foundation. They have just so much great information and community," Meghan said.

For the Masseys, the most inspiring part of their journey is Reagan herself.

"Anybody, if she rides in the car, she'll tell 'em everything that's going on in her day. And that's exactly how we hope she will be forever. So she's her own champion, which is fantastic," Mike said.

Language is important when it comes to differences. So the next time you come across someone with "polka dots" on their face, try this:

"You can say, 'You're rocking your dots!' You know? 'I like your polka dots!'" Meghan said.

However, there's no one who speaks more eloquently about acceptance more than Reagan.

"If someone says you're different, that's true. And that's what makes you, you. And, if you have a birthmark, well, you should feel proud of yourself," Reagan.

Reagan, we hope you're very proud of yourself. You should be.

For more information on the Vascular Birthmark Foundation, click here.

Editor's Note: The following video is from a previous, unrelated report.


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