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Patients of Courage: The Untold Stories

12Nov

On February 17, 2002, Devin was on his way to becoming a suicide statistic. Due to a variety of family issues, the then-twenty-three year-old took the Winchester 12-gauge shotgun given to him on his 16th birthday, checked then closed the barrel, and placed it under his chin. He never heard the blast.

Whether due to the shotgun’s extended barrel or other factors, Devin was not destined to end his life on that day. Rather, he became one of the 80,000 patients of ASPS Member Surgeons who undergo maxillofacial surgery each year.

Devin’s suicide attempt left him without his nose, the lower third of his jaw, both lips and all but six of his teeth. In the following two-and-one-half months, Devin endured multiple surgeries: muscle flaps transplanted from his chest to provide blood supply and restore bulk to his face; bone and tissue relocated from his ribs to rebuild his nose and from his leg to reconstruct his jaw.

In 2006, ASPS Member Surgeons performed over 1.6 million reconstructive plastic surgeries, restoring function and appearance to patients with degenerative disorders, birth defects, and severe injuries of the body.

While recovering from his multiple surgeries, Devin underwent a transformation – his primary focus became other people, beginning with his mother. Unable to speak, Devin communicated by using a writing board, and one day he scribbled, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’ll never do anything like that again.”

He began to realize that there must be others like him—that there were likely other high-school aged kids who were contemplating suicide, as he had long before his attempt.

Devin shared his thoughts with his surgeon, who put him in touch with a suicide prevention group called the Yellow Ribbon Program and Community for Hope. Shortly, thereafter, Devin began speaking to middle- and high school groups.

Devin’s presentations begin by passing around a photo of himself before the suicide attempt, while telling students about his mohawk, tattoos, piercings, and desire to enjoy his “new” life. His goal? To draw attention away from his face, allowing students to “see” his personality.

However, the most important lesson, Devin tells them, is that they should never be afraid to ask for help, that the Yellow Ribbon Program makes getting help easy.

“The program is a godsend,” Devin says. “I didn’t know about it, or I wouldn’t have attempted suicide. I wouldn’t be here talking about my life.”

Occasionally, a student in crisis will reach out after a presentation. One student took the time to write: “I used to have so much to deal with and it was hard and sometimes I would get scared and wonder why I was here? And it might be better if I run away or hurt myself or maybe commit suicide. . . And then I heard your story and I realized who else I would have been hurting and what I almost did.”

It is just this type of response that fuel’s Devin’s desire to continue helping others in need.

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