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Marc Elliot | TEDxYouth@Hewitt

Two days after Marc Elliot was born, he was diagnosed with a rare birth defect called Hirschsprung’s disease. Hirschsprung’s had given him almost no working intestines, and no ability to digest food on his own power. Despite the odds of death or a horrible quality of life, one brave surgeon, Dr. Jessie Ternberg, took Marc under her wings, took a chance, and saved his life. After spending the first six months of his life in the hospital, undergoing seven experimental surgeries, and followed by several more years in and out of medical facilities in St. Louis, Missouri, Marc became known as the “miracle baby.”

However, Marc’s challenges did not end there. At the age of nine, he was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome: a neurological disorder that causes him to make involuntary motor and vocal tics. As Marc grew older, his tics manifested in many different forms, from ‘ticcing’ inappropriate words, to blurting out random noises, barking like a dog, and chomping his teeth.

Over the next ten years, Marc struggled to live a normal life in the suburbs of St. Louis. Aside from the scars that stretched across his abdomen and the frequent outbursts of tics and and offensive language, Marc lived with a special enthusiasm for life. He was a talented thespian, played tons of sports, and even was elected student body president of his high school.

Marc attended Washington University in St. Louis, where he majored in biology and pursued a pre-medicine path in hopes of following the footsteps of the pediatric surgeon who saved his life. Upon graduating in May of 2008, Marc embarked upon a speaking tour around the nation. It was just something to do before he became a doctor. His subject was tolerance.

In his presentation, “What Makes You Tic?,” he took his experiences of not fitting in, of not feeling comfortable with others, to discuss fundamental lessons about tolerance—how to live with our own, and others’ differences. Little did he know this would become his calling.

Over the past three years, he has spoken to hundreds of groups and organizations, reaching out to over 75,000 individuals in the US and internationally. At the age of 26, Marc has now found a way to use his own story, and his triumph over handicaps as a way of helping individuals around the world overcome think about tolerance in a new light.