Melissa had been beaten for so long that her face
Her nose, after 17 years of punches by her abuser, had flattened flush
against her face, making it difficult to breathe. The repeated blows caused her
tendons to loosen from her lower eyelids, which then drooped - a condition
more common to people in their 70s than to a woman who is 42.
Now, through the help of a Great Neck plastic surgeon, the face that stares
back from Melissa's mirror shows few signs of her ugly past.
In the six-hour operation at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde
Park in October, Dr. Andrew Jacono harvested a rectangular piece of bone from
her skull, reshaped it, and used it to rebuild the bridge of Melissa's nose. He
used cartilage from her right ear to shape the nose's tip. Finally, he made
incisions under her eyes to lift the sagging lids. The surgery could have cost
up to $40,000, Jacono said. But for Melissa, it was free.
Melissa, a mother of two, agreed to be photographed but asked that her last
name not be used for fear of retribution by her former partner. A Nassau
County resident, she said getting surgery was never something she considered
because of its high cost. "There was always something more important that my
kids needed," she said at a news conference yesterday at the Long Island Jewish
Medical Center, where she unveiled her new face. Now, she said, "I can look in
the mirror without that constant reminder."
Melissa said she suffered for years at the hands of her partner, who often
aimed his blows at her face. "When I'm done with you, no one else will ever
want you," she remembers him threatening.
Sandy Oliva, executive director of the Nassau County Coalition Against
Domestic Violence, said such threats are common. "It takes tremendous courage
for victims to reach out," she said.
After two particularly brutal beatings in August, Melissa called the
group's hotline and asked for help. She got an order of protection and the
coalition helped her pay for a new apartment. She's looking for a job and
thinking about going to school. Today, in fact, she is taking an exam to get
her high school equivalency diploma.
Jacono has been donating his services to domestic violence victims for
about seven years, ever since he performed facial surgery on a woman who
initially told him she had been in an auto accident. He discovered she was a
victim of domestic abuse when the patient returned a few months later. "My work
had been completely destroyed," he said.
Since then, Jacono has been involved with Face to Face, an Alexandria,
Va.-based nonprofit that provides free surgery to domestic violence survivors.
He also serves on the board of directors for the Nassau County coalition.
Although there is pride in Melissa's new face - including the nose that
turns up just so - Jacono knows the real accomplishment is hers alone.
"She's made huge strides in her life," he said. "This is just the icing on
How Dr. Andrew Jacono and 12 staffers of the Long Island Jewish Medical Center
repaired the patient's facial damage after six hours of surgery.
Harvesting the tissue
Rebuilding her face
A new look (2 months later)
Only thin piece of bone is removed. Skull regrows tissue.
Cartilage removed from ear and Cartilage grafted to nose
The damage: Bone and cartilage were destroyed, causing deformity and
How it was repaired: Fragments from the damaged tissue were removed. Doctors
then took a strip bon bone from the skull and cartilage from the right ear and
grafted them in the nose to restore its shape and ease breathing.
The damage: in a normal eye, tendons help hold up the eyelids. In the patient,
years of abuse loosened the tendons, causing the lower eyelids to sag.
How they were repaired: Doctors made incisions in the eyelids and retighten the
Researched by Katie Thomas and Andrew Wong, Graphic /Rod Eyer
Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk: 631-360-3606
The Retreat: 631-329-2200
Brighter Tomorrows: 631-395-1800