Reporter Vic Lee saw her for the first time on Wednesday since that surgery more than a year ago.
Julia Hernandez had everything going for her — a pretty face, infectious personality and a winsome smile. She won beauty pageants in L.A., her hometown.
In 2013, when she was 21, her world collapsed.
“A cluster of blood cells burst in my brain,” she said.
A massive stroke crippled her.
Worst of all, her beautiful smile was gone. It paralyzed the left side of her face.
“I looked in the mirror and I saw my face for the first time. And I was shocked,” Hernandez said during our first meeting last year.
But gradually, with the support of her family, among them her sister and father, Hernandez found strength and inner peace.
She also found Dr. Daniel Knott, whose specialty at UC San Francisco is difficult facial re-animation.
In May last year, Hernandez went through an 8-hour surgery where Dr. Knott transplanted muscle from her thigh to the left side of her face.
On Wednesday, 15 months later, Hernandez came back to UCSF to see her doctor. It was also the first time we saw Julia since surgery.
Julia’s smile was almost totally back.
She remembers the aftermath of the surgery when her facial nerves began responding to the surgery.
“I was like whoa,” she said.
Dr. Knott told her on Wednesday she looked great and that she had “amazing symmetry.”
A big change from the time he performed surgery.
She still has a lot of work to do to work out the muscles in her face.
That’s because Hernandez had another setback three months after her surgery.
“In August of last year, I had another stroke.”
After that surgery, even more months of physical therapy while the left side of her face was healing well.
Through it all, Hernandez discovered that old adage, beauty is only skin deep.
“It’s OK to just be yourself and just finding that inner beauty within you is the ultimate gift that you can give yourself,” she said.
Hernandez has found that ultimate gift.
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