A girl had the bottom half of her face completely reconstructed after a riding accident left her with the worst injuries her doctors had seen outside a war zone.
Emily Eccles, 15, had just one centimetre of skin keeping her jaw attached to the rest of her head after her horse was spooked by a car and she was smashed into a gatepost.
The teenager faced being permanently disfigured as she was rushed to hospital clutching her severed jaw in her hands.
But during a five-and-a-half-hour long operation, consultant facial reconstructive surgeon Ricardo Mohammed-Ali rebuilt her face with such precision – using three titanium plates and more than 160 stitches – that once the scars have healed there will be no visible sign of her brush with death.
Emily was out riding with a friend and family members near Baslow, Derbyshire, in August when her horse heard a car exhaust pop and bolted. Her feet came out of the stirrups and she fell to one side with her head hitting a wooden post.
The teenager said she saw something red flash in front of her as she fell. She said: “I just looked down and I was like, ‘I don’t know what that is’. I could see teeth and bone and I said, ‘is that my jaw?’.”
Emily was rushed to Sheffield Children’s Hospital. Meanwhile, her teacher parents, Michelle and Chris, were told of the accident over the phone.
As they waited, Dr Mohammed-Ali set to work on repairing what he described as “one of the most significant injuries that I have seen in a child outside of areas of conflict”.
He added: “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”.
Mrs Eccles, 50, said her daughter looked “quite gruesome’ at first, but added: “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’.”
Emily was treated at the hospital for 11 days before being allowed home and amazingly was back at Wales High School, near Sheffield, for the start of term.
“I couldn’t believe there was just this one scar and everything, although still swollen, was back in the right place,” Mrs Eccles said.
“We’ve tried to thank [Dr Mohammed-Ali] and he’s such an unassuming guy. He just smiles quietly and says ‘I was just doing my job’.”
Emily said that she would like to start riding again, but added: “It’s my parents I have to convince”.