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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Recovering from facial disfigurement: We inspire them

Lesia Cartelli’s story:
     A girl from Colorado, I’ll call her Sarah, was in a car, hit by a drunk driver at age 13.  Her father and her twin sister, sitting next to her, were killed in the accident.  She had incredible facial trauma, with one side of her face paralyzed, so that only half her face could smile.  She spent a week with us at Angel Faces, and we helped her with a lot of role playing on staring and teasing, art therapy, and goal setting.  She went back and started speaking to all the drunk driving classes.  She was 15 at the time, and had aligned with really good, strong people, so she was able to take her trauma and make a real difference.  Now she has just graduated from high school.  For her, it wasn’t just about having her face disfigured by trauma, as she has lost her father and sister.  But she stopped being buried in grief.  

     Sarah told us all about this at Through Your Voice, which is one of the programs within Angel Faces.  Girls come back here and do a presentation about what they’ve done with their trauma to try to change their world.  The girls take their trauma and make something beautiful out of it.  So we can say to the others after a horrible accident, What are you going to do about it?  

     At Angel Faces, we’re in our tenth year.  I don’t have children of my own, but I have 200 teenage girls.  We create a community here, so the girls mentor younger girls.  They go through our program, then go out and live for a couple of years, go to college, get their feet into the real world, embrace their hard knocks, and then they can volunteer as a part of our team.

     I started Angel Faces after my accident.  I was burned as a child in a natural gas explosion.  After the hospital, where you’re in this loving womb of treatment, to go into the real world, with such grief, scarring, and trauma, and then, maybe you only get to see a therapist for 45 minutes a week, it’s really not enough!  I’d been at a camp for burn-injured children, which, I realized, was failing to address the true needs the children had, to get them through their injury with knowledge and grace, not just to entertain them with camp-like games.  

     I saw that if I got the girls in a healing setting, and gave them a path to express themselves and learn about their trauma, that was what was needed.  They start to put together their story to help people, and help girls just released from the hospital, who think “my life is over.”  We inspire them; they realize all is not lost; they can be a teacher to so many.

See the Angel Faces website.  Thanks to Lesia for the interview, and to Rick Stevens of Ascot Media Group for connecting us. 

Read Chapter 11, "Living for Others," for other patient advocate heroes in Ken Farbstein's book, Getting Your Best Health Care:  Real-World Stories for Patient Empowerment [e-book is available here].

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