What drove you to undergo reconstructive surgery?
Evelyn: I was very insecure about the way my face looked. I hoped it would make a difference on my outlook and people wouldn’t stare at me as much, asking in their mind, “What is wrong with her?”
Ashley: The thought of my scars no longer being as noticeable to other people. I wanted to get rid of the reminder of the trauma I experienced.
Sharon: I was unable to move on with my life and was haunted by the knife attack every time I saw my reflection in the mirror. My older sisters and friends kept telling me I was still a beautiful woman, inside and out, but I could not believe the outside part. All the other scars are covered up by clothing, but the ones on my face and neck were a road map of what had happened to me.
What were your initial thoughts during your consultation with Dr. Jacono?
Evelyn: I was a little nervous, but in my heart, I trusted that he's a good doctor, and he was doing something that was going to make me happy. I wasn’t nervous in a bad way - I was excited.
Ashley: I thought that Dr. J was an amazing man, and I was excited by how confident he was about fixing my scars.
Sharon: I had seen some of the other reconstructive surgeries he had performed and was excited about the possibility of getting rid of my facial and neck scars. I had total faith and confidence in him and was not at all afraid or apprehensive.
Were you nervous at all before the surgery?
Evelyn: I was not very nervous about the surgery itself because I had already had been through other very long and painful surgeries in the past. Honestly, I didn’t think it was going to make a big difference. I was so surprised by the results.
Ashley: Not at all, I felt very comfortable in the hands of Dr. J and his team.
Sharon: I was very nervous, mainly because I knew what he was going to have to do to remove the scars. I prayed that the words uttered to me during the knife assault would go away when the scars did.
Are you happy with the results?
Evelyn: Yes, I’m VERY happy with the results of the surgery. When I look at myself in the mirror, I like what I see so much more.
Ashley: Yes, I am especially happy about the scar on my neck. It is no longer as thick, bumpy, and noticeable.
Sharon: I am ecstatic with the results! It has only been four months since my surgery, and I am amazed at how nice my skin looks! Dr. Jacono is such a gifted surgeon!
How do you think the surgery has affected you?
Evelyn: I can look at myself in the mirror with less negative thoughts. It’s also affected me in the way I think - I used to hide my face with a handkerchief everywhere I went. Now, I don’t hide my face at all. I have so much less fear around people.
Ashley: It has affected me in a positive way by changing how I feel about my appearance when I look in the mirror.
Sharon: I no longer suffer from depression. I like looking at myself in the mirror now and taking the time to put on makeup and fuss with my hair. I feel good about my appearance again. The daytime flashbacks and nightmares have waned, and I feel I am finally moving on with my personal life.
Describe the impact the surgery has had on your family.
Evelyn: Here in the U.S., the organization that takes care of me - Strongheart Fellows Program - is my family. Grace, who is also in Strongheart and is one of my best friends, has been very happy with the changes in me. Zoe, who is the Executive Director of Strongheart, is SO glad that I am so much happier. My host family was very happy to see me when I returned to Austin. They tell me I am beautiful.
Ashley: It has really affected my mom by giving her the experience of finding her daughter feeling more confident about herself.
Sharon: My son, my husband, my oldest sister, my granddaughter and my nieces are all thrilled for me. I come from a family of beautiful women (inside and out) and it’s so nice to just feel normal again.
How has your life changed after the show?
Evelyn: I feel more fearless with people. I can carry on conversations without thinking “Oh, what is this person thinking about me?” I can look them in the eye without worrying about what they think of me. At school, people don’t even ask me what happened to my face because they don’t even notice it! I feel like I belong so much more.
Ashley: It has given me the inspiration to someday speak out and hopefully help other domestic violence victims.
Sharon: I feel like I am more like my “old self” again. I am more outgoing again, and I enjoy social situations a lot more now. I have joined a couple women’s groups and I was nominated chairman of our Fellowship Committee at church. I am also the treasurer of our church’s Lutheran Women’s Missionary League.
Would you go through this process again?
Evelyn: Yes. It’s made such a huge difference for me. I feel lucky to have been chosen to participate in Facing Trauma.
Ashley: Yes, because it gave me a chance to turn a traumatic experience into something positive.
Sharon: Absolutely! It gave me back my self-respect, dignity, confidence and a new lease on life.
What advice would you give to other trauma victims?
Evelyn: My advice to them would be – it’s not easy to go through hardship and abuse, but I do know that sometimes we have to go through pain in order to have the life we want. The Strongheart motto is from a quote by the writer Hemingway, “The world breaks us all and after, some are stronger in the broken places.” You can be stronger as a result of your broken places.
Ashley: To never let the trauma you have experienced let you feel lesser about yourself.
Sharon: Never lose hope. To feel hopeless is self-defeating and is destructive to our emotional well-being. Know that there is more to life than what you have so far experienced. You are so much more than what you have been through. Your future holds no limits and is full of promise.
Any updates on your life after the show?
Evelyn: I am taking classes now through Strongheart’s Camps to Campus Program. I go to school with many other international students. I am learning a lot and am moving forward with my life. I made a video for Strongheart that was on national television in the U.S. speaking out against the rebels. I was also honored by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C.
I want to thank everyone so much for making this happen - The Facing Trauma team, Dr. Jacono, and Strongheart Fellows Program. I’m very grateful and I’m looking forward to helping other people one day like you’ve all helped me.
Ashley: Trying to raise awareness around my community and help women in need.
Sharon: I am getting involved in a group at church about domestic abuse, trauma, post-traumatic stress syndrome and related topics. This group is just in the beginning stages.
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