A sales executive who has been bullied all his life because of huge cysts on his face has embraced his differences after finding love.
Alexander Marti, 27, from Brisbane, Australia, was born with a condition called lymphatic malformation, giving him a mass on his face called a cystic hygroma.
The mass was operated on numerous times, but it hasn't been possible to remove it entirely.
Mr Marti needed a tracheotomy to assist his breathing as a young child, and had speech impediments due to having a tongue bigger than normal.
His childhood was tainted by the taunts of bullies poking fun at his appearance, which landed him in physical fights.
But it was the strength from his father to 'fight back', his friends, and a new romance, that has helped Mr Marti to pull through a confident man.
Mr Marti's cystic hygroma is a collection of fluid-filled cysts that results from a blockage in the lymphatic system.
The lymphatic system is a network of vessels within the body which form part of the immune system.
Cystic hygromas, which can affect up to one per cent of newborns in the UK, can develop anywhere in the body, but are commonly found in the neck and armpits.
Growing up, Mr Marti always knew felt different to his peers - and they made him feel that way, too.
But Mr Marti's father, Carlos Enrique Marti, encouraged him to 'never take anyone's rubbish'
Mr Marti said: 'Coming from an ethnic background [South American] and with my hygroma more severe than now, in year five there was this one Aussie kid who used to verbally bully me a great deal.
'My parents did the right thing and went to the school to tell the teachers in the hope that they could sort it out, but nothing was done.
'My parents, being a bit old school, told me to stand up for myself and if he did it again, don't hold back.
'So, our class was standing outside our classroom in two lines, waiting for our teacher to let us in; that's when this kid said something about my cheek again and I just snapped, pinned him up against the wall with my forearm, gave him a headbutt and pushed him to the ground. He never bullied me again.
'I got into a few physical fights.'
Mr Marti grew up in Sydney, but the family moved twice - the second time because the bullying had become too severe.
Mr Marti said: 'Growing up in Sydney, I was lucky enough to make a best friend, Gabriel Vivo, who made me feel like every other normal kid running around the school yard even through my many operations.
'From Sydney, I moved to Central Coast of New South Wales, which was to be honest the hardest two years I had. Because of the many surgeries in those couple of years, my face and tongue would flare up and down.
'I was being bullied a fair bit and found it difficult to adjust to my new surroundings.
'After two years of living in Central Coast, we moved up to Queensland; again it was a rocky start with bullying beginning again and some altercations.'
Mr Marti underwent numerous surgeries including one to remove 80 to 90 per cent of the cysts on the right side of his cheek, therefore reducing the size.
He has had laser treatments on de-bulking of his tongue and 15 rounds of a drug from Japan called OK-432 to shrink his cysts.
Even after a cystic hygroma has been removed or shrunk, there is a chance that it could return.
Mr Marti said: 'When I was going to primary school my hygroma was still very large. I had a tracheotomy [during primary school] and had some speech problems due to the size of my tongue.
'Cystic hygroma has affected me emotionally and most of all physically; you go through so many high and lows.
'I was worried about whether I would make friends like my parents did or be in a relationship like any other teenagers in high school.'
But that all changed when he met life-long friends Stuart Fishwick, Joseph Logan and Jackson Downie.
Mr Marti said: 'I'm extremely grateful for this group of friends, as they stuck by me through thick and thin.'
Since meeting his girlfriend, Sarah Hill, 27, online, Mr Marti is a changed man.
He said: 'I now have a UK-born girlfriend and she has been there for me ever since, including accompanying me to hospital appointments and supporting me through it.
'Now I believe I feel like a very grounded man; I'm confident, happy, humble and extremely grateful for the life I'm living.'
Source: The Daily Mail
Photos: Alexander Marti/MDWfeatures