Belfast Telegraph

Bullying torment of mum disfigured by illness as child

By Brett Campbell

A woman who has to wear headphones every time she leaves her north Belfast home to drown out vile insults has pleaded with her abusers to let her live her life in peace.

Janine Howard (33) was left with a severe facial impairment after contracting a flesh eating bug while undergoing treatment for acute lymphatic leukaemia when she was just two.

"Instead of calling me Quasimodo, people call me Jeanny-Meany Modo," she said.

"I get called everything from pasty face, stupid face, spastic face, squashed-up face."

The devastating complications, which included blood poisoning, left her without a cheek on the right side of her face, no upper lip and badly damaged teeth.

At one point doctors told her mum Sylvia that she only had one or two days to live, but she miraculously survived.

The mum-of-two has been battling bullies ever since.

"I've had to endure a lot of operations because the right side of my face was essentially just bones," she explained.

"I can't walk down the street without listening to music - it's the only way to blank out the names because if I can't hear it, it can't annoy.

"It allows me to hold my head up high."

Janine, who has lived in the New Lodge area for the past five years, said the children who shout abuse on a daily basis are old enough to know better.

"I know some kids will stare because they don't know any better - but these kids are aged between 11 and 16 and should know better.

"Ultimately, it's down to the parents and how you are brought up."

Janine branded the abuse as dangerous and warned it has the potential to impact on her mental health.

"I have too many family and friends for it to affect me that way, but it does make me angry and upset - I get more upset because they are getting away with it," she said.

"There's no consequences for them.

"I just want them to stop, just stop and allow me to live my life."

Janine, who won the Child Achievement Award in 1991 in recognition of her bravery, is used to being subject to hateful behaviour.

Vandals once smeared animal faeces over her toys, burnt her dolls pram and damaged the family car when she was younger.

They had to move home as a result of terrifying threats and Janine suffered further injuries when someone punched her in the face when she was 17.

In 1996 Sylvia told the Belfast Telegraph that her daughter only had one dream - to become a mummy.

Now that she has two daughters she is urging her bullies to show some humanity.

"My daughters are 12 and 11 - they wouldn't dream of acting like this to someone with a disability," she said.

"If you are curious then ask, if you can't be bothered finding out why I look the way I do then don't say anything. No one knows what's around the corner in their own lives."

Belfast Telegraph

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