Felicity’s story

A large haemangioma caused Felicity’s facial palsy, here she shares her story and some good advice for people who are being bullied.

FelicityMy name is Felicity, I’m 28 and from Chesterfield, Derbyshire. I’m a confident, bubbly and friendly person but that hasn’t always been the case. I was born in 1990 in Oldham, along with my twin sister. My twin sister and I were born premature and had a few problems due to that. My dad noticed a slight blemish on my cheek a few weeks after I was born. The doctors kept an eye on it and in a matter of weeks, the blemish had turned into a large haemangioma (the size of an orange!). Obviously, due to its size the doctors could not leave the haemangioma and had to operate. During my first couple of years, I had numerous operations, skin grafts and blood transfusions in order to remove the haemangioma and create a more ‘normal’ looking face. Due to the size of it, when the surgeons removed my haemangioma they also moved some of my facial muscles and nerves. To counteract this, they moved some muscles and nerves from my legs and arms and implanted them into my face. The transfer of muscles and nerves was partly successful and gave me some movement in the left side of my face. However, it still left me with a facial palsy and disfigurement. Along the way, I also had a number of blood transfusions and skin grafts too.

Growing up is always tough, but when you look different, it’s on a whole other level! Throughout primary and junior school I guess I was more sheltered and children were never mean to me. Everyone was lovely, supportive and I wasn’t treated any differently. Then I progressed onto high school and this was when the bullying started. When children start high school they are getting to the age where their confidence is growing, egos are apparent, hormones are raging and people are out to impress each other and define themselves in social groups. Without going into too much detail, Years 7 and 8 of high school were probably the worst years of dealing with my facial palsy. I received both physical and mental bullying on a daily basis and truth be told, the teachers were not too supportive and just classed it as ‘another’ example of bullying. The people who were bullying me were never informed about my disfigurement, and instead just saw me as different, which is no excuse to bully anyone. If the teachers were to talk to the bullies about my disfigurement and what I had been through, then maybe they would have stopped or at least thought about what I had been through and the impact they were having on me. As the years passed, the bullying stopped and I was enjoying high school and had a great group of friends. After I left school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a career, but like everyone else, I chose a university and studied linguistics. The university experience was good, but my heart wasn’t in it and I dropped out after a few months. Life’s too short to be doing something that you don’t enjoy! I then started working in the family company, managing the administration and accounts. During this time, my confidence has sky rocketed and I am much more comfortable in myself and appearance.

FelicityDay to day, I sometimes notice people staring or looking at me. Admittedly, it is mostly older people and young children! People my age are much more sympathetic and sensitive about my disfigurement and although I can tell they notice, they don’t tend to mention it. When I get to know someone well, I will tell them a bit about it as I’m sure they are wondering! Yes, there are days when I wish I could smile ‘properly’ or raise my left eyebrow but people go through so much worse than me, so I just try to stay positive and get on with my life. Having a disfigurement isn’t something that should hold you back, it’s just a part of you that’s makes you a bit different than everybody else.

I have struggled to come to terms with my facial palsy in the past, and have shied away from going to a surgeon for advice or check-ups. However, last year I suddenly came to the realisation that I was getting older (unfortunately!) and I probably needed to have a check-up. I visited my GP, and she referred me to a hospital in South Yorkshire to see a great consultant. After numerous appointments and discussions, I had an appointment to have lower eyelid surgery. This surgery would reduce the fatty tissue that was under my eye and made me look like I’d not slept in a year! The build-up of fat is due to the muscles not working in the under eye area. The operation was carried out in 45 minutes and although I looked like I had been punched in the face, I was assured that once I had healed fully, the results would be excellent. A few weeks later and I could see that the fatty tissue had been removed and my under eye area had been dramatically improved. My consultant also recommended having Botox injections in my forehead area. This removes the wrinkles, which I have on one side of my forehead and freezes the movement caused by my eyebrow lifting. Basically, it helps to create more symmetry to my face. The Botox is something that I have every six weeks and gives a great result.

I don’t let my disfigurement define me whatsoever. I’m a positive, confident and determined person, even though I’ve been through some pretty rough times. Yes, I have bad days like everyone else where I’m not liking what I see in the mirror, but those days come and go. My disfigurement has instigated my interest in beauty and fashion. These days, there are so many ways that you can sculpt your face into looking however you want to. Applying makeup makes me feel more in control of my disfigurement and gives me a confidence boost too. Although I have an interest in makeup and beauty, I do know that beauty comes from within and your personality is so very important. That’s why I take time to work on my self-esteem, confidence and outlook towards life. I’ve recently started researching mindfulness and how to live a positive and anxiety free life. I’m always looking for ways that I can improve my outlook on life and manage my anxiety which can creep up on me from time to time! I’ve also started really enjoying going to the gym. You can feel pretty exposed at the gym (no makeup, hair tied back etc.) but everyone at the gym is working on themselves and not looking at you – in fact, some people are too busy looking at themselves in the mirror! Seriously though, the gym has really helped me become more content and proud of myself.

If I had to give anyone who has a disfigurement or facial palsy some advice, it would be this – don’t let this define who you are! You are a beautiful and strong person and deserve to lead such an amazing life. You will have bad days and that’s ok! If you are feeling down, go and do something that you enjoy and spend time with people that you love. If you are being bullied, please go and speak to someone about it. Nobody should feel like they are isolated or bullied in any way.

This article has taken me quite a few attempts to write. In fact, I tried a few years back but I didn’t feel strong enough, but that’s ok! There is no time limit of when you have to accomplish things in life. Confidence and feeling content can take time, and even more so with a disfigurement. Now feels like the right time to express my story and experience with facial palsy, so I really hope this helps you if you have a disfigurement or if you are researching facial palsy then I hope that you understand it a bit more.

Disclaimer: Please note that views expressed are person’s own and should not be considered a recommendation of particular medical treatments, therapies or surgeries. We would always advise you seek advice from a health professional with experience in facial palsy who can assess your individual needs.

Last reviewed: 18-02-2018    ||    Next review due: 18-02-2021