Doctors Construct a New Face for Domestic Abuse Victim

Carolyn Thomas is a domestic abuse victim whose face was destroyed when her boyfriend shot her. For the past year, doctors at Methodist Hospital have spent months and hundreds of thousands of dollars constructing a new face for her. This week was the first time they saw the finished result. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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On December 5th, 2003, Carolyn Thomas came home to find her boyfriend in a rage. He grabbed her and held her down while he shot and killed her mother. Then he put the gun to her head, pulled the trigger and left her for dead. Thomas survived, but lost her jawbone, left eye, nose, lips, teeth -- essentially her entire face. After seven surgeries, she has a face again and took off the bandages for the final time. She says she's learned that life experience is the best teacher.

"People can tell you what you should and should not do and with us being humans, quite naturally, we're going to do whatever it is that we want to do. And so I think by experiencing, you know going through this domestic violence, experience all the surgery and all the stares, it made me a better person on the inside and a lot of times that's what counts."

A team of physicians from Methodist Hospital donated their time and services under a program called Face to Face, which connects victims of domestic abuse with surgical services. Dr. Eugene Alford is the plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Methodist who headed up the team. He says when he first met her she was a typical domestic violence victim: shy, reserved, low self esteem and no self confidence. But over the past year that has completely changed.

"Vibrant conversations, teaching women how to be empowered, how not to be a victim of domestic violence, but to be a survivor, it's an amazing transformation. You know, she's had her down moments too. I can't -- you can't overlook that. She had a great deal taken away from her, but I think her strength has given her back a lot more than she lost."

Alford will operate on Thomas one more time next month to correct a drooping eyelid and straighten out her lip tissue. Her face will always carry the scars of the hate she was subjected to. People will notice and look. But Thomas says she feels that God saved her and kept her here with her disfigurement for a purpose.

"And that purpose is to get as much information out about domestic violence, the signs, what you can do as a friend or a loved one. You know someone that's involved, because a lot of times the people that are in that situation, they're not able to call themselves. So I'm kinda, now I'm trying to tell the friends and the family, you know hey, you make that call and see what it is that you can do to help that person out."

Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

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