…wants surgeon knighted
With half of her sliced-off jaw dangling from the rest of her head by just a sliver of skin, Emily Eccles’s grisly horse-riding injury was one of the worst doctors had ever seen.
The 15-year-old, who could see her own teeth and bones drooping below her, feared she would look like a ‘zombie’ forever. But she has now called for her surgeon to receive a knighthood after he miraculously rebuilt her face with 160 stitches and three titanium plates.
Emily, a high school student, smacked into a gatepost while riding near Baslow, Derbyshire, in August. An oncoming car had spooked the horse which suddenly bolted, flinging her from the stirrups and head-first into the wooden pole. The left side of her jaw was ripped almost completely off, forcing her to cup the remnants of her face in her hands to stop the 1cm layer of skin severing completely.
Emily said she remembers catching something red which flashed in front of her face as she fell.
She said: ‘I just looked down and I was like, “I don’t know what that is”. She said that, once in the ambulance: ‘I just looked down and I could see teeth and bone and I said, “is that my jaw?”.
Surgeon Ricardo Mohammed-Ali said: ‘It could have been worse, but it is one of the most significant injuries that I have seen in a child outside of areas of conflict. Emily’s injury was significant in that the entire left side of her lower jaw from the front of the jaw to the joint was pulled away from the face and only retained by a small strip of skin.
‘The nerves that supply sensation to the lip and chin was torn on both sides. Branches of the facial nerve that move the muscles of the lower lip were severed on both sides. The lower part of Emily’s face was only attached by a piece of skin.’
But during a five-and-a-half-hour operation, Mr Mohammed-Ali pieced Emily’s face back together.
The teenager, who is studying GCSEs at Wales High School, near Sheffield, and is also a talented skier, said that her horrified friends thought her injuries looked like ‘some kind of zombie’. Emily said she first tried not to look, but accidentally switched on her selfie camera as she was messaging a friend.
She said: ‘It was like something you see in a film, it was really quite horrific. At first I was thinking, I don’t know what I’m going to do, I’m not going to look like me, I’m not going to have the same kind of life as I did before.’
Yet, with her scars now fading, Emily hailed the work of Mr Mohammed-Ali and has even written to the Queen to get the surgeon knighted.
She said: ‘He said that in a year’s time, from speaking distance, you won’t even be able to tell that anything’s happened. We can’t thank him enough. Everything that he’s done in his career up to that point led up to him being on call that night. If anything had gone any differently, I might not have had a bottom jaw.’
Emily’s mother Michelle, 50, has called the reconstruction work ‘miraculous’ and told of her fret when she received the call of her daughter’s horrific accident. She said she was driving with husband Chris, 48, when she received a call which said: ‘There’s been an accident. I’m so sorry. It’s Emily.’ The couple rushed to the hospital where a nurse warned her to prepare herself before entering the room where Emily was being treated.
Teacher Mrs Eccles said: ‘I took a few deep breaths and then she guided me into the room. I think some sort of coping mechanism came over me. It’s your daughter there in a critical condition and looking very poorly and quite gruesome as well. But her eyes were still the same so I just thought, “just focus on her eyes”. I gave her a kiss on her forehead and kept saying “it’s going to be all right”.’
She said: ‘Luckily, Emily’s sense of humour never stopped.’
And this was reinforced when her husband chipped in with: ‘Em, you don’t do anything by halves’, prompting a mock exasperated response from their daughter.
Mrs Eccles stayed with Emily as she was treated at the hospital for 11 days following the emergency surgery.
Mr and Mrs Eccles said they have visited the gate on a Derbyshire lane where Emily had her accident and there is a metal spike just next to the point of impact. They said they have realised it could have been even worse.
Mrs Eccles said: ‘I’ve tired to block that from our minds.
‘Mr Mohammed-Ali said that a centimetre either way would have been catastrophic.’
The family has already started to raise money for the Children’s Hospital Charity’s appeal for a helipad in Sheffield and also for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance. They have held a garden party at their home near Sheffield and set up an online appeal page to help raise funds.