Modern-day 'Elephant Man' from Riverside tries to stay positive amid stares, physical pain

ByRob McMillan and Vania Stuelp KABC logo
Saturday, August 17, 2019
Modern day 'Elephant Man' from Riverside to undergo major surgery
Eddy Newton is hoping to undergo additional surgeries to help him as he struggles with neurofibromatosis, also known as Elephant Man's disease.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- He's considered a modern day Elephant Man, going through life with deformities that have kept him from getting a job and living a normal life.

Now, as he's about to turn 50 years old, friends have set up a GoFundMe page for a much needed surgery.

Just like a lot of people, Eddy Newton's big hobby is music.

"My favorite bands, Foreigner, Journey," says Eddy. "I'm a huge Garth Brooks fan, Carrie Underwood."

It's a joy he can share with all of his friends. "It's a passion that we all seem to enjoy together."

But there's something Eddy has that most others do not. A condition so severe, only 10,000 people in the world share it.

"I have a rare disorder, and it's called neurofibromatosis," explains Eddy.

This condition is more commonly known as the "Elephant Man's" disease.

"Part of this disease is development of benign masses that can be disfiguring," explains Dr. Benjamin Bradford, from Loma Linda University Medical Center.

And something else Eddy will never escape: "I get double stares, I get the whispers."

All his life, Eddy Newton has had to deal with stares and teasing because he suffers from neurofibromatosis, also known as Elephant Man
All his life, Eddy Newton has had to deal with stares and teasing because he suffers from neurofibromatosis, also known as Elephant Man's disease.

Eddy had a tough childhood. He says his father left the family when he was seven years old and that he was mocked and ridiculed by other kids, with constant name-calling.

"Jawbreaker, freak, two-faced, elephant boy," recalls Eddy.

Later in life, his self-esteem continued to plummet.

"I joined a circus, a traveling circus," Eddy says, since he could not find any other job. "I was a sideshow freak."

"When he went out in public he had to wear a hood on his head so they wouldn't see him," Eddy's mom says. She has a less severe form of the disease.

For Eddy, the side effects include constant migraines.

He has had over 30 major operations, which left him with no right ear, few teeth, a sagging eyelid, and a severely disfigured face.

On Tuesday, Dr. Bradford will perform another major surgery to remove the tumor from his chin, revise the jawline, reduce facial and neck scarring and enhance his breathing.

"We will be doing an operation to remove some of the excess skin as well as transfer fat from his abdomen to areas of the face that need more volume in an effort to improve his appearance and give him better symmetry," Dr. Bradford explains. "He will likely need further operations to optimize his appearance."

"It will also help me have a more defined chin, but it will also help me breathe a little easier," Eddy says.

Neurofibromatosis can also be life-threatening. Doctors told Eddy he wasn't supposed to live past age 8. But he's now almost 50. And just as he likes to share his love of music, he shares a story of inspiration as well.

"I stayed strong with my faith, but also my mom," Eddy explains. "She's always taught me to stand straight up, back straight, shoulders back, chin up, walk with confidence, and I've always done that."

"I couldn't be prouder, he's an amazing young man," Eddy's mother says.

Through it all, he says he's happy. "I'm happy because there's only one me, nobody could be me, but me."

Eddy lives a very modest life with his mother in a mobile home.

But his friends say he's the first one to volunteer to help whenever others are in need. He volunteered for four months in Texas helping Hurricane Katrina survivors. For over 15 years, he has volunteered helping children in an orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico.

Recently, he founded a non-profit called "Eddy Unmasked," devoted to helping teens cope with self-esteem issues.

He has shared his life story with high school students throughout Southern California and says he wants a chance to do even more of that.