Christin and Russell Lewis were absolutely thrilled to welcome the arrival of their twins in July 2016. But the birth brought a shocking discovery. Their twins, Nolan and Savannah, don’t exactly look like their parents.
That’s because Nolan and Savannah have albinism, a rare condition that means their skin produces almost no melanin. Since the Lewises are black, it makes people ask some pretty rude questions.
Some people need to learn to keep their thoughts to themselves.
“People think that I cheated on my husband to have white babies,” said Christin Lewis. “I want to make a public service announcement: We are faithful, we did not cheat on each other, and we did not use surrogates. I carried these babies for nine months.”
Nolan and Savannah have pale skin and eyes. Nolan’s hair is blond, and his sisters red.
Albinism is rare enough that most people have never encountered it.
Albinism is an extremely rare condition. It’s even more unusual to find in twins.
It doesn’t just mean having pale skin. Nolan and Savannah experience other effects, as well. They cannot be out in the sun without a lot of additional protection, such as sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses. They also have extremely sensitive eyes and need regular eye appointments. But that does not mean that their parents aren’t thrilled to have them.
The condition means living with a few challenges.
Albinism isn’t a disease and doesn’t stop people from living happy, full lives. It’s a genetic mutation that affects about one person in 17,000. It is even rarer in twins.
The genetic disorder makes individuals appear very pale, with extremely light or translucent eyes. Their eyes are so light, in fact, that the irises have a hard time blocking rays from entering the eye. This means that people with albinism may be especially sensitive to light. They can also have rapid eye movement or vision problems or even be completely blind.
Albinism also means increased skin sensitivity. People with this condition are susceptible to sunburn, so they have to be diligent about protecting themselves from the sun and getting regular skin cancer screenings.
The Lewises aren’t worried about their kids’ condition, just about what people will say.
Christin and Russell Lewis worry about their children being bullied and say they will probably homeschool to try to lessen that.
“We probably won’t put them in the system with regular children,” said Christin Lewis. “We think that they are very sensitive, and people do stare at them on the street. We want to shield them from that and let them know they are beautiful and can do anything they set their minds to.”
They want to teach them to love themselves and be confident.
There are plenty of challenges related to having children with albinism. The Lewises have to make sure the twins’ skin is covered, and they have a thick layer of sunblock on at all times. They also need to wear hats and sunglasses since sunlight is very hard on their eyes.
Both twins experience the rapid eye movement associated with albinism and need eye appointments every six weeks. Their hair is also brittle and needs a lot of care. But their parents are focused on teaching them that they are perfect as they are.
“In the beginning, I felt afraid for them and I worried that they would be bullied,” said Russell Lewis. “But even though they are just 2 years old, I have developed a tough skin already. People look at them and they can’t believe they are black kids with white skin. But I shrug my shoulders. I think they are beautiful, and I wouldn’t change them in any way. I want them to embrace their differences, not shy away from them.”
Humans aren’t the only ones affected by this condition.
Albinism can also affect animals. In fact, in some species, it is much more common than in humans. Turtles, fish, reptiles, deer, birds, and raccoons with albinism have all been spotted in North America. Some estimates say albinism occurs in about one in 10,000 animals. Certain bird groups may even see one in roughly 1,700.
These unique individuals are beautiful. With any luck, the Lewises will help their children be strong and confident and teach others not to judge before they know the whole story.
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