“Today I can look in the mirror, I couldn’t before,” says Lisa Patterson, a domestic abuse survivor who wants her recovery to be an inspiration for other women who have also experienced violence. That was not the case in June when Dr. Mary Lynn Moran solicited responses for a free plastic surgery make-over for those who submitted the best narrative describing why they deserved such an award. “We weren’t thinking domestic violence,” said Dr. Mary Lynn Moran, facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon. “When I saw Lisa’s story, there was no question she was the one.”
Lisa’s story is a dark one. She spent many years in an abusive relationship. She suffered severe facial disfigurement, lost her teeth, and by tattoo, her abuser branded her with his name. All permanent injuries impossible for her to recover from on her own.
The contest, though not originally intended to target domestic abuse survivors, offered a once in a lifetime opportunity for Lisa to seek help. After submitting her story, she said she waited in anticipation for the deadline to pass and was devastated when she didn’t immediately hear from the contest organizers.
Receiving the news of her story being selected, “I actually couldn’t breathe,” she said. “I was in shock.” Lisa still had a challenge ahead of her. Describing her scars on paper didn’t necessarily prepare her for walking into Dr. Moran’s office the first time and exposing her scars. “I was happy, nervous, and scared,” she said. “The thing I remember most is coming in with my head down. “But [Dr. Moran] made me feel so comfortable. I was able to tell her a lot more.”
This type of assistance is not foreign to Dr. Moran, as she has long been a participant of The Face-to-Face Domestic Violence Program offering free facial plastic and reconstructive surgery to help heal physical and emotional scars for abuse survivors. Through her expertise, she was able to address the most visible physical damage to Lisa’s face and jaw line; however, her expertise did not address some Lisa’s other injuries. “It became pretty clear quickly there were some other big pieces that would prevent [Lisa] from
healing,” said Dr. Moran, who with the help of the contest organizers reached out to other area professionals to assist further.
Shortly after Lisa’s first consultation with Dr. Moran in July, Dr. Kaitlyn Glasscock and Dr. Rachel Carlson of Cool Springs Modern Dentistry were able perform cosmetic dental surgery and provide new dentures to Lisa to augment her facial reconstruction. Dr. Steven Bengelsdorf and his team at Franklin Skin and Laser, through a series of visits, were able to remove Lisa’s tattoo to further ease memories of her past and improve her confidence.
Lisa says these procedures have helped her emerge from a darkness and she hopes to use this new platform to continue to help other women in need. The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed some of her outreach, but she has long participated in online support groups and continues to do so. Lisa says she understands the difficulty in seeking help, but when she interfaces with others, she encourages them through her “experience, strength and hope.”
“If they’re still in an active situation, make a plan,” Lisa said. “The highest risk of death is after leaving. Tell the people around you. Tell someone you can trust.” And if someone has already taken this step, Lisa says to “seek therapy, seek domestic violence groups.”
Dr. Moran echoes this advice and feels this message is even more important in our current social climate with people being home more and under stress from the pandemic. “Now more than ever due to the pandemic,” she said. “A lot of people prone for abuse are doing that more. There is hope out there.”
Though Dr. Moran can appreciate the physical healing Lisa has undergone in recent months, she sees a confidence and self-worth that goes beyond the physical, and appreciates having been part of that transformation. “So many of these cases you hear about and you can’t do anything,” said Dr. Moran. “But here was an opportunity. I’m incredibly grateful.”