Sarah | Portrait Session

This is our friend, Sarah. She scheduled a session this summer on the 20th anniversary of a life changing accident. We were honored to photograph this beautiful, talented and inspiring woman and we’re glad that she’s given us permission to share these photographs and her story.

From Sarah:

“On Friday, August 13, 1999, when I was just 19, I was in a very serious car accident.

On a winding, country road, with high hedges, in Berkshire, England, a young woman speeding in a BMW, who police believed was either texting or attempting to make a call at the time, crossed over the centre line and clipped the edge of the car traveling in front of me. It flipped twice before landing facing the way it came. The sole occupant, another female, opened her eyes to see me coming around the corner, to be hit head on by the BMW.

While I’m lucky I had my seatbelt on that day, the sheer force of the impact pushed the steering wheel column up and into my face. The bottom half of my nose shattered, I had a fractured cheekbone and a cracked eye socket and had lost or damaged teeth. There was severe swelling to my right ankle and left knee.

I was airlifted to hospital with so much blood loss there were concerns for my survival. I spent the next four or five days in hospital unable to walk and for a lot of the time unable to see because of the swelling and bruising.

In the three years following my accident, I underwent five surgeries: Three to rebuild my face, one to deal with breathing issues and the shape of my nose, and one to deal with my teeth.

It was a long and difficult journey.

At times I recoiled from touching my own face because it simply didn’t feel like mine. At one point I asked my mum who someone was in a family photograph only to realize it was me. I didn’t recognize myself.

A bank clerk once denied me access to my account because I clearly wasn’t the person pictured in my passport. It took a call from my dad to the bank manager to rectify the situation after I returned home crying.

As my face was slowly being rebuilt, I was laughed at, pointed at and faced cruel taunts and made children cry as a result of my appearance.

I was told I may be unable to carry a baby to term or have difficulties conceiving as a result of the scar tissue left behind by the bruising from the seatbelt.

I spent a long time sleeping upright in order to heal and faced my own dark thoughts in those sleep-deprived nights.

And there were too many tears shed to even begin to describe.

It was the worst thing that has ever happened to me.

There are still days when I hate what I see in the mirror, especially my teeth. I spent most of my teen years in braces so it’s pretty frustrating to know that was wiped out in a split second. One tooth in particular was permanently discoloured and I still twist my smile to avoid it showing in photos.

There’s a lump in my nose that I still can’t touch because it gives me the shivers to do so.

Sneezing can still be jarring and I suffer terribly in the dry Canadian weather as a result of the scarring inside my nose.

I still can’t feel one part of my face. The nerves were too damaged and never grew back and one ear is closer to my head than the other because the cartilage was taken to rebuild my nose.

But in the two decades since my accident I have come to realize that it was also one of the best things that happened to me. Don’t get me wrong, I wish it hadn’t happened, but there were so many blessings that came from that day.

I have legs. I wonder how I do when the front of my car was crushed to the windshield.

My face should be a patchwork of scars but instead when my nose shattered it split my skin in one neat line, leaving me with just one scar.

I have two beautiful children I didn’t think I would have and a husband who chose to see none of my issues.

I have learned how strong I am. I have learned what I can endure. I can face any challenge and persevere in the face of whatever roadblocks life has in store for me.

I used to divide life between pre-accident and post-accident and now I know it’s just one fantastic life. I celebrated that life on August 13, 2019 with a photo shoot so I could remind myself I’m OK.

I know it sounds egotistical to do so but it was a big deal. No one has a truly symmetrical face but it is symmetrical enough that what you see in the mirror is what you see in a photograph. Not for me. I hate photos of me because it isn’t what I look at in the mirror. And that is a hard thing to come to terms with. In fact, it took until 2009 in a snap at my best friend’s wedding that I finally saw an image that looked like what I saw. I cannot thank Collin and Erin at Collin Stumpf Photography for making me feel the way they did that day.

Now I write this terrifically long post not for any desire to seek clicks or compliments but in the hope that you’ll take some time to think.

I’m not going to preach about driving. I think you can understand from this post the devastating impact that can happen when for a split second you don’t concentrate.

Instead I want you to know about Changing Faces, the wonderful British charity for those with facial differences. There is a Canadian equivalent called About Face.

In the initial weeks after my accident I was put in touch with the people at Changing Faces and immediately received counselling, peer help, books and resources to help me overcome and thrive.

I met some incredibly inspiring people, going through far worse than I could even begin to imagine, and learned so much of why and how society makes some of us seem less than as a result of what we look like or the differences we have.

Don’t stare, don’t point and don’t visibly look disgusted. Know that each and every one of us is more than just a face.”

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