She Lost Half Her Face in 1999, Now Doctors Have Finally Given Her Reason To Remove The Mask

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She Lost Half Her Face in 1999, Now Doctors Have Finally Given Her Reason To Remove The Mask

When Chrissy Steltz decided to co-host a spring break house party in March 1999, she could've never guessed that by the end of the night, she would no longer have a face.

"It's spring break," Steltz recalled. "We're all, you know, doing what teenagers shouldn't be, you know, drinking. And I went into the back room and offered them orange juice, and I saw one of my friends with the shotgun."

Steltz told the guest to "put that down before you kill somebody," but he responded with "It's not loaded."

The accident

Moments later, she got accidentally shot at point-blank range, and that's when her life changed forever.

ABC News

Her boyfriend at the time, Will O'Brien, stumbled upon the bloody scene just a few minutes later.

"I don't know if you have ever seen like a wounded animal trying to get up?" O'Brien said. "That's what I saw. I saw an injury that nobody survives, except somebody really strong. And she was trying to get up."

Of course, Steltz was immediately rushed to a nearby hospital, where surgeons did all they could to save her life.

They were successful in keeping her alive, but since the blast destroyed three quarters of her face, they weren't able to save her nose and eyes.

"The blast itself removed the contents of her left eye socket, removed her nose and the supporting mid-facial structures and damaged her right eye to the extent that she lost vision," said Dr.Dierks
Chrissy Steltz and Will O'Brien
Chrissy Steltz and Will O'BrienABC/Splash News

The initial surgery was one of many that Steltz would undergo to rebuild what's left of her face.

Road to recovery

She remained in a drug-induced coma as doctors and her family hoped for the best. She endured some brain damage, but they wouldn't know to what extent until she woke up.

Dr. Eric Dierks, one of the surgeons who operated on Steltz, told ABC News that he has never "seen anything so severe where the patient lived."

Finally after six weeks, Steltz regained consciousness and began the longest road to recovery.

Chrissy Steltz in hospital
Oregon Live

But first, she had to come to terms with the severity of her injuries.

"The first thing I remember is waking up in a hospital and asking if we were there yet," she said. "In my mind, mentally, I was on a trip to the beach with my family. I thought I'd fallen asleep in the back seat of the car."

O'Brien explained to Steltz the gravity of her injuries, including the fact that she would never see or smell again.

Of course, she was shocked, but processed the news better than anyone could've imagined.

"When I finally knew what had happened to me and that I had lost my sight and that it would never be coming back," said Steltz.

"I knew I could sit back and have a pity party, or I could figure out what to do and go about doing it, and that's exactly what I did."

Chrissy at prom
ABC News/Splash

As soon as she was discharged, she started learning to live as a blind person, including learning Braille and walking with a cane.

Steltz didn't want to lose her old life, so she also went back to her high school. She attended prom and graduated with straight As.

Second chance

Her relationship with O'Brien didn't last much longer, but while attending classes for the blind, Steltz met a man named Geoffrey Dilger.

Like Steltz, Dilger also lost his vision at the age of 16, but his was due to an illness.

Steltz and Dilger
ABC News

They had an instant connection, and now, seven years later, their relationship is stronger than ever. They have traveled to a lot of different places and even have a child, who is also named Geoffrey.

"I kind of look at little Geoffrey as like life, you know?" said Steltz. "You're either going to grab it by the boots and go or you're going to sit there and not know what to do. So I grabbed it by the boots and I was ready to go."
Steltz and her son Geoffrey
Oregon Live

Despite all the challenges she has faced over the last 19 years, Steltz has maintained a positive outlook about life, and this attitude has helped her make some amazing progress over the years.

However, there was one thing Steltz felt would make things so much better: a face her son could look into so he "can grow to know his mom looking like a regular person versus a sleep shade."

A new face

In 2010, after 11 years of wearing a black sleeping mask, a team of doctors were able to create a prosthetic face for Steltz.

They used photos of her at the age of 16 and aged them to create features that will match the rest of her face.

Not only would Steltz's son be able to see his mother's face, she would be less self-conscious about her appearance.

Maxillofacial prosthedontists Dr. Larry Over and Dr. David Trainer were the experts who were tasked with creating the face. They created a mold of Steltz face, then used silicone to create the prosthetic.

Oregon Live

The remaining team of doctors removed the damaged tissue, created a breathing passage, and added dental implants into her facial bones.

They also used skin grafts, bone from Steltz's left leg, as well as screws and metal plates, so the prosthetic can be easily put on and off.

The face came with a full makeup look, including eyeliner, eye shadow, and mascara, all of which were baked on the silicone.

Face prostethic

The entire procedure cost $80,000, but insurance wouldn't cover it, so the doctors and nurses donated their own time to make it.

The reveal

Steltz's family and friends were eager to see her new face so they all accompanied her to the hospital to see what she'll look like.

Tears of happiness were shed as it was the first time in more than a decade that Steltz's family saw her face.

Rebuilding Steltz's face
Oregon Live

As for little Geoffrey, he took his mom's new look very well.

"It's going really well," Steltz said. "He's not minding it one bit."

Steltz's new face
Oregon Live

Steltz took her new face out to the mall, and she admitted that she could feel the amount of stares have declined.

"There were times I could definitely feel people's eyes staring at me," she told Inside Edition. "So I don't need to worry about people looking at me and noticing me for the sleep shade, I can know that they're looking at me and noticing me for who I am."

Oddly enough, not only does Steltz have the ability to feel it when she's being looked at, she can also see things in her dreams.

Seeing in dreams

Steltz told ABC News that she's able to see the world and people she knows in her dreams.

"When I go to bed every night ... my dreams are fully sighted. I still see the sky. I still see ... you know, the ocean..."

She can also see herself without the mask as well as her son.

"I see his chubby cheeks and his gorgeous eyes and his perfect little lips," said Steltz. "The oddest of dreams is I'll pull off my sleep-shade and I'll look just like I did when I was 16," she said. "And I'll throw the sleep-shade on the ground and walk off."
Chrissy Steltz
Oregon Live

While most people feel sorry for her, Steltz says don't be.

"When anybody finds out how I went blind, their first comment 99 percent of the time is, 'I'm sorry.' And my response to that is: I'm not. I lived," she told Oregon Live.

There's nothing to be sorry about living through something like that. Don't be sorry for me. Be happy for me. Be proud of the fact that I have gone on with my life."

Steltz's prosthetic will need to be replaced in a few years, but for now, she feels really good about the future.

Blair isn't a bestselling author, but she has a knack for beautiful prose. When she isn't writing for Shared, she enjoys listening to podcasts.