'My new life after face surgery'

Sue Morgan-Elphick with her children

For Sue Morgan-Elphick, life began at 28. Until then, she kept her true self locked away because of her crescent-moon-shaped facial disfigurement.

'I’d feel like the ugly sister going out with a group of Cinderellas'.

Sue Morgan-Elphick

At school, she was called Concorde or Anteater because of her nose and chin. Her smile was more a gurn than a grin.

“I used to dye my hair outrageous colours like Annie Lennox, and wore fluorescent green and blue eye shadow to distract from my peculiar-shaped face,” she says.

As she got older, she wore a scarf around her face in public, never posed for photographs and avoided social events.

“I’d feel like the ugly sister going out with a group of Cinderellas,” says Sue, from Barrow-in-Furness. She’d never had a boyfriend and didn't have many friends.

As a child, different areas of Sue’s face grew at different rates. The cause of her condition is unknown and no one else in her family has it.

“My lower jaw and chin lengthened and curled up until I could gurn like Les Dawson, with my chin touching my nose. I couldn’t close my jaws together.”

She came across as miserable and sour. “People always assumed I had a grumpy personality, though inside I have always been outgoing and cheerful,” she says. “I moved around an awful lot as an adult; I couldn’t put down roots.”

Mentally prepared

Sue trained to be a nurse and found a job working in an oral and maxillofacial unit in London, with leading facial surgery consultant Iain Hutchison.

“I watched him cutting and rebuilding other people’s faces and it didn’t bother me at all, so I asked if he could do anything for me. ‘Yes, you do look rather abnormal. Come to my clinic on Wednesday,’ he said."

And so it began. She had meetings with a psychologist to make sure she was mentally prepared for life after surgery. She wore braces for 10 months and had some extractions to adjust her teeth before the operation. 

During this time she met her future husband, George, on a holiday with friends. “He saw me at my worst,” she says.

In 1995, Sue’s top jaw was broken and brought forward nearly 5cm. Her cheek bones were reshaped from bone grafted from her hip. Six titanium plates and screws were inserted to hold the bones in place. 

After eight hours of surgery, Sue woke up feeling groggy and in pain, thinking, “What the hell have I done?” After a few days she had her first look in the mirror. “I couldn’t believe the transformation,” she says.

'I feel reborn'

A few weeks after the operation, she was waiting for a friend at Euston station. “She walked past me and did a double-take and said, ‘Oh my God’. She didn’t recognise me,” Sue says. 

It took nearly a year for the swelling from the operation to go down. Sue says she feels reborn since the operation, able to face life with new confidence and hope.

“My natural cheeriness, which had been locked in all those years, suddenly burst out,” says the mother of two. “I never used to smile. I had always avoided photos. I’ve got hundreds now.

“When I was first whistled at by builders, it gave me the biggest buzz ever. I felt as though I’d lived 28 years behind a face that wasn’t mine.”

But the pre-operation Sue has not completely gone. “She's been boxed away, but she’ll always be a part of me,” says Sue.

“Being that person for 28 years made me a better person, able to empathise with people and carry on my work as a nurse.”

Page last reviewed: 02/10/2014

Next review due: 02/10/2017


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