18 Celebrities Who Overcame Major Childhood Health Battles (PHOTOS)

18 Celebrities Who Overcame Major Childhood Health Battles  (PHOTOS)

Celebrities aren't immune to illness — in fact, a number of stars discovered their passions or derived the strength to persevere precisely because of the health battles they endured as children. Some managed to recover from possibly fatal illnesses like polio and cancer, while others learned to manage chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes. All of these famous faces, however, offer hope that it is, indeed, possible to overcome sickness, to beat the odds, and to emerge stronger than ever.

From Mia Farrow's bout with polio to Sarah Hyland's kydney dysplasia, Nick Jonas' battle with type 1 diabetes, and Prince's history of epilepsy, these celebrities are proof that it's possible to lead a full, graitfying, successful life even in the face of illness.


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  • Sarah Hyland


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    Unbeknownst to her Modern Family fans, actress Sarah Hyland had been grappling with kidney dysplasia since birth. The condition occurs when a fetus' kidneys don't develop correctly and fluid-filled cysts develop instead of kidney tissue. In May 2012, at age 21, she revealed that she had just undergone a kidney transplant. The person who donated a kidney, helping her live a healthier life? Her dad. 

  • Laura Dern


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    Known for her evocative performances in indie films, Laura Dern was a 10-year-old ballet student when she discovered she suffered from sclerosis. Dern later recalled how, at the time, doctors recommended that she wear a brace from the neck down. Her mom refused to accept the measure, and instead, took young Laura to an osteopath. Alternative medicine proved to be her saving grace: Six months later, she said, all signs of scoliosis disappeared. 

  • Mia Farrow


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    Well before she charmed audiences as the glamorous Daisy Buchanan in 1974's The Great Gatsby, Mia Farrow was a 9-year-old girl fighting polio at an isolation unit in the Los Angeles General Hospital. Farrow spent three weeks there -- much of it in an iron lung since the virus had started to paralyze muscle groups in her chest, impeding her ability to breathe -- but managed to beat the disease, regain her strength, and go on to become a Hollywood icon and a humanitarian.

  • DJ Qualls


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    At age 14, Nashville native DJ Qualls was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin's desease and, as a result, underwent chemotherapy for two years before going into remission at age 16. The actor, who got his big break in 2000's raunchy comedy Road Trip, has since starred in such shows as The CW's Supernatural, FX's Legit, and Syfy's Z Nation.

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  • Jessica Alba


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    Actress and entrepreneur Jessica Alba recalls spending many nights in the hospital as a child due to her severe asthma and allergies, ruptured appendix, pneumonia, and kidney surgery, her doting mom nestled in a nearby cot. But it was precisely childhood illnesses that inspired Alba to launch a line of non-toxic, eco-friendly, allergen-free baby products and household cleaning supplies. Her business, The Honest Company, is now valued at $1.7 billion.

  • Hugo Weaving


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    Born in Nigeria to British parents, Hugo Weaving was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 13. In a 2014 interview with The Guardian, the actor --  known for his roles in The Matrix trilogy and The Hobbit -- said he had seizures once a year until his 40s, when they suddenly stopped.

  • Donald Sutherland


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    Like his acting peers Mia Farrow and Alan Alda, Donald Sutherland suffered from polio as a child in New Brunswick, Canada. His first word was reportedly "neck" because he felt pain there, an early warning sign of polio. As a result of his illness, which he eventually overcame, one of his legs is slightly shorter than the other.

  • Seal


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    The "Kiss From A Rose" singer's facial scars surfaced when he was 23 as a result of  discoid lupus erythematosus, a form of the autoimmune disease that attacks skin cells. The U.K.-born Nigerian singer has said that his difficult childhood, along with his lupus diagnosis, influenced many of his early lyrics. "I believe that in all forms of art there has to have been some initial adversity," he told the New York Times in a 1996 interview.

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  • Shaun White


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    A two-time Olympic gold medalist in snowboarding, Shaun White was born with a heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot, a condition consisting of four heart abnormalities. As a result, he had three open-heart surgeries as a baby. With regular check-ups over the years and a great deal of perseverance, White has managed to remain healthy while engaging in a physically demanding and risky sport, emerging as a champion.

  • Vanessa Williams


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    A blessing in disguise: That's what Vanessa Williams considers her childhood scoliosis battle. The Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives actress's case was so severe that she underwent spinal fusion, whereby 8-inch metal rods and screws were placed in her spine. Her physical activity limited by the successful corrective surgery, her dreams of dancing ballet were crushed. The silver lining: Williams discovered a passion for acting which, in turn, would make her a star.

  • Nick Jonas


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    "Good Thing" singer Nick Jonas was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 13, after his family noticed his sudden mood swings, weight loss, frequent bathroom trips, and unquenchable thirst: He once drank eight glasses of chocolate milk, then threw up. "I was actually thinking I was going to die," Jonas says. Now, Jonas says he's developed the tools to properly manage his condition.

  • Scott Hamilton


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    When Olympic figure skater Scott Hamilton was 2, tests showed that his body wasn't absorbing nutrients, but no treatments seemed to work. When he was 8, doctors misdiagnosed him with cystic fibrosis and predicted he had only months to live. He was eventually correctly diagnosed with Schwachmann's Syndrome, a condition that paralyzes the intestinal tract and limits constricts breathing. Protein-rich diet and regular exercise helped him recover and earn future glory on the ice.

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  • T-Boz


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     TLC singer Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins still lives with sickle cell disease -- in which red blood cells harden and change shape, blocking blood flow and causing pain and organ damage -- but she was not expected to live beyond 30. Though she was born with the inherited blood disorder, she was not diagnosed until age 7. That meant she periodically endured the kind of intense pain that other patients are given strong narcotics and IV fluids for -- until doctors figured it out and were able to help. 

  • Pink


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    The acrobatic singer who can belt out the lyrics to "Glitter in the Sky" and "Who Knew?" from a flying trapeze was born with a collapsed lung and, shortly thereafter, diagnosed with asthma. Building a singing career despte this, she trained herself to sing from her abdomen rather than her lungs.

  • Prince


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    During a 2009 appearance on PBS's Tavis Smiley, Prince said, revealed that he was born with epilepsy, which led to severe seizures as a child. Though the seizures stopped, bullying at school did not, prompting Prince to teach himself several musical instruments and parlaying his love of music into an iconic career. 

  • Bret Michaels


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    Though he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes early on, at age 6, rocker Bret Michaels struggled mightily with the condition: He was hospitalized for three weeks when his sugar levels spiked so high that he went into severe ketoacidosis; he also went into insulin shock at least for times, he  says. After figuring out how to take care of himself, he went on to rock stardom and has used his fame to spread awareness about diabetes via the Bret Michaels Life Rocks Foundation.

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  • Alan Alda


    Image via Richard Drew/AP/Corbis

    He may have placed the wisecracking army surgeon Hawkeye Pierce on M*A*S*H but, offscreen, Alan Alda spent quite a bit of time receiving, rather than offering, medical care. Diagnosed with polio at age 7, Alda underwent painful physical therapy. "My parents had to wrap these scorchingly hot blankets around me and hear me scream and beat the bed with my fists," Alda said during a 20/20 interview. It took several months, but Alda eventually recovered and suffered no lasting effects.


  • Chloë Sevigny


    Image via Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/Corbis

    Perennial 'It' girl Chloe Sevigny, who currently stars in FX's American Horror Story: Hotel, was diagnosed with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, as a child. While doctors advised against surgery, saying the curvature wasn't too severe, but Sevigny admits she's very aware of her posture when she sees herself on film. Doing yoga three times per week, however, has helped her feel more "straightened out" and boosted her self-confidence.

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