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After Carter Gentle underwent emergency heart surgery in April 2015, his father, Mark Gentle, made a touching plea on social media in hopes of lifting his son’s spirits. Carter was devastated by the scars that would be left behind as a result of the surgery, leading Gentle to post a photo of Carter’s incisions to Facebook, asking that people “like” the image to show Carter that his scars were a sign of strength, not something to be sad about.
More than 1.5 million people “liked” the image, with countless messages of support pouring in as the photo went viral. After TODAY’s interview with Gentle, our readers took to Facebook as well, sharing photos of their own scars, and showering Carter with love and kindness.
Today, Gentle says his 8-year-old son is healthy, and still strengthened by the support he was shown from around the world. Here, the country music singer shares the effects going viral had on his family as part of "2015 Voices," a special series of essays and interviews with newsmakers behind some of TODAY's biggest moments of the year.
Our family is doing quite well. My wife Sarah and I reside in Farmington, Maine, with our three children, Vanessa, Madyson and Carter. We are always busy in one way or another, and remain very active in the congenital heart defect (CHD) community.
Carter is now eight years old, and attends second grade. He is doing quite well physically, yet still struggles somewhat emotionally due to the challenges he’s been faced with. He keeps a positive attitude, though, and lives life like any other 8-year-old boy — climbing trees and playing with his car collection. He also loves music, and can be found playing his guitar and making up songs on a daily basis.
Carter will need to have another surgery in 2016 to implant another stent in his heart, and to open an existing stent. We remain positive that he will prevail as always.
I’ll never forget the circumstances that led to me posting the viral photo of Carter. When we removed his bandages after his emergency pacemaker surgery, he was appalled at what lied beneath his bandages. He stared at his scars in the mirror and sobbed, thinking that people would call him ugly and stupid. This bothered me so deeply that I came up with the plan to post his photo and ask for my Facebook friends and family to give him some positive reassurance.
I never imagined more than a million people would like the photo. The response was truly overwhelming — hundreds of thousands of comments, pictures and words of kindness and love bombarded us instantly. Carter was stunned at how people came together, showing pictures of their scars and sending him videos and gifts.
We spent countless hours on social media corresponding with others who thanked us for making their children proud of their scars, too. It was therapeutic for all of us. And, the more comments that came, the more accepting Carter was of his scars.
He saw that people cared, and that millions of other people had situations similar to his. He realized he wasn’t so different after all. It reinforced to us that there are so many amazing people in this world that get masked by news reports of bombings and hate. It restored our faith in humanity to see how everyone came together to support our family.
Our story has been shared and seen by millions of people across the globe. And the song I wrote for Carter, “Carter’s Song,” was shared and viewed by thousands of people. I am very proud of the song and to see the impact that it has had on the CHD community. When I think of the people that my son’s story has touched, it brings me to tears.
I would like to personally thank each and every person who shared comments and sent words of encouragement to a little boy who was in need. Our family will never forget the generosity and display of love that came our way from across the globe — it was and still is truly remarkable.
—As told to TODAY.com’s Terri Peters
The TODAY Facebook community was quick to comment on Carter's story, sharing thousands of photos and words of encouragement for Carter as his story spread around the world. Here are some of the sweet messages shared with Gentle family by TODAY Parents readers.