Simao Meco remembers the bully on the school bus who told him he looked like a monster.
Birth defects had left his eyes too far apart and his nose misshapen. The 9-year-old could barely see out of his right eye and he had trouble breathing.
Now, the bully on the bus is a distant memory.
Only weeks ago, Simao underwent two rare and complex surgeries at Cohen Children's Medical Center to realign his face. On Friday, he is heading back to school in his hometown of Hillside, New Jersey.
But there was something Simao wanted to do Thursday before he hits the books again. The third-grader returned to the New Hyde Park hospital to thank the surgeons who changed his life.
"I feel better, I see better," said Simao, with his mop of brown hair and his red sneakers. "I'm good."
His mother was about as happy as a mom can be.
"He actually feels handsome," said Lisa Meco, Simao's mom.
Two of the surgeons recounted just how difficult it was to reconstruct Simao's face. They performed the operations, the first of their kind on Long Island, free of charge since the family had no insurance, hospital officials said.
Dr. James Bradley is one of five surgeons in the world trained in the procedure. He described how he and his colleagues had to cut bone and reset both sides of Simao's face. They also operated on the right eye to point it forward and adjusted the sinuses and nose to help Simao breathe.
"He's made a remarkable recovery from a complex surgery," Bradley said.
Dr. Mark Mittler, the hospital's co-chief of pediatric neurosurgery, talked about meeting Simao in his office before the surgeries.
"Here is a normal 9-year-old in all aspects, trapped with this deformity," he said. "I couldn't think of anything more pleasing than to fix this problem."
Simao has always been "a strong kid," his mother said. Even before the surgeries, he liked to go outside and play.
"But he wouldn't hang out with the other kids," Lisa Meco said.
Instead, she said, Simao spent a lot of time indoors playing video games.
"Now we can put that behind us, and not have anybody stare at him," she said.
The mom sees the joy of her son having the promise of a fuller life, unhampered by the bullying, stares and questions.
"He was handsome before," she said, "and now he's even more handsome."
Simao, who still has several weeks of healing ahead, is looking forward to playing soccer and wants to be professional video game player when he grows up.
As a special treat, the hospital surprised Simao with an appearance of his favorite superhero, the Flash, decked out in his red costume with a yellow lightning bolt.
Seeing his hero, Simao smiled in a way that made many others in the room smile, too.
"How you doing?" the Flash said to him.
"I'm good," said Simao, laughing.
"Are you a fast runner?"
Then the duo posed for the cameras, flexing their arms, hugging and giving a big thumbs-up.