Spring break should a joyous occasion. It comes with warm weather and gives students a chance to relax and have a little fun before the final weeks of school.
But for 16-year-old Chrissy Steltz, spring break ended in a bloodbath.
When she decided to throw a party at her house in March 1999, Chrissy never could’ve guessed the devastating consequences her decision would have.
That evening she literally lost half her face.
This is Chrissy Steltz at 16 years old. The picture was taken before an accident that would take half her face.
It all started with Chrissy throwing a party for her friends. They wanted to celebrate spring break together.
Alcohol flowed and everyone was laughing. But soon the atmosphere changed.
“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,” Chrissy says.
Chrissy told her friend to “put that down before you kill somebody.”
But he responded that “it’s not loaded.”
A few seconds later, Chrissy was shot in the face. She was at point blank range when her friend pulled the trigger on the apparently charged weapon. And just like that, Chrissy’s life was changed forever.
Her boyfriend at that time, Will O’Brien, stumbled across the bloody scene shortly after.
“I don’t know if you have ever seen like a wounded animal trying to get up?” Will says. “That’s what I saw. I saw an injury that nobody survives, except somebody really strong. And she was trying to get up.”
Chrissy was immediately taken to a nearby hospital, where surgeons worked fervently to save her life.
They managed to keep her alive, but three quarters of her face had been destroyed and they couldn’t save her eyes and nose.
“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,” says Eric Dierks, one of the surgeons who operated on Chrissy.
The road to recovery
Chrissy was in a coma for a long time, and her doctors and her family could only hope for the best. She had escaped severe brain injuries, but nobody knew if Chrissy would ever wake up.
Eric Dierks tells ABC News that he has never seen “anything quite so severe where the patient lived.”
Finally, after six tense weeks, Chrissy regained consciousness and took the first steps on her long road to recovery.
But first, she had to accept her injuries and grasp what had actually happened.
“The first thing I remember is waking up in a hospital and asking if we were there yet,” Chrissy says.
“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.”
Chrissy’s high school boyfriend, Will, had to explain to her how badly she had be shot. He was forced to break the news that she would never see or smell again.
Of course, Chrissy was shocked, but she took the news better than anyone could have 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. 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.”
As soon as she left the hospital, Chrissy started learning to live like a blind person. Among other things, she learn braille and learned how to walk with a stick.
Chrissy didn’t want to let go of her old life, so she went back to her old high school. She went to prom and graduated with top grades in all her subjects.
A second chance
Chrissy’s relationship with Will soon ended, but he was an incredible support for her after the accident.
That wasn’t the end of romance for Chrissy, though. It turned out, love would bloom again for her. At a meeting for blind people, Chrissy met a man named Geoffrey Dilger.
Like Chrissy, Geoffrey lost his vision at the age of 16, though he lost his eyesight to a disease.
The pair clicked immediately and today, seven years later, their relationship is stronger than ever. They’ve traveled to many different places and have a child together, also named Geoffrey.
“I kind of look at little Geoffrey as like life, you know? 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,” Chrissy says.
Despite all the challenges she’s encountered over the years, Chrissy has maintained a positive view of life and her attitude has helped her make great progress.
There was, however, one thing that Chrissy felt would make things much better: to get a face that her son could look at, so that he could “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, Chrissy was about to get a prosthetic face from a team of surgeons.
The team used pictures of Chrissy at 16 years old to create eyes and a nose that would match the rest of her face.
Not only would Chrissy’s son be able to see his mother’s face, he would also be less ashamed of her appearance.
Doctors Larry Over and David Trainer were tasked with creating Chrissy’s face. The remaining team of surgeons removed injured tissue from Chrissy’s face, created a breathing passage and added dental implants.
They also used skin transplants from Chrissy’s left leg, as well as screws and metal plates, so the prosthesis could easily be taken on and off.
The face came with full makeup, including eyeliner, eye shadow and mascara — all made from silicone.
All in all, the prosthesis and surgery cost $20,000, which wasn’t covered by Chrissy’s insurance. So the doctors and nurses decided worked in their free time, free of charge.
Chrissy’s new self
Chrissy’s family and friends were, of course, very keen to see her new face, so everyone went to the hospital to see how she looked.
It was the first time that Chrissy’s loved ones had seen her face since 1999.
Little Geoffrey took his mother’s new look very well.
“It’s going really well. He’s not minding it one bit,” says Chrissy.
Chrissy proudly went out with her new face and showed it to everyone. But she admits that she could feel the glare of others looking at her.
“There were times I could definitely feel people’s eyes staring at me,” she tells 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.”
Chrissy not only has the ability to sense when someone is looking at her. She can also see things in her dreams, she says.
Seeing things in her dreams
Chrissy tells ABC News that she can 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 her mask, as well as her son’s face.
“I see his chubby cheeks and his gorgeous eyes and his perfect little lips,” Chrissy says.
“The oddest of dreams is I’ll pull off my sleep shade and I’ll look just like I did when I was 16. And I’ll throw the sleep shade on the ground and walk off.”
While most people feel sorry for her, Chrissy says they shouldn’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 tells Oregon Live.
“I’m not someone who wants you to feel sorry for me. I’m still alive. I’m still here, having fun. I am very happy”
Although Chrissy’s prosthesis will have to be replaced in a few years, she says her future looks bright.
What an inspiring and strong woman you are, Chrissy! I’m impressed by your attitude toward life and the way you’ve met every challenge.
Being strong doesn’t mean you don’t feel pain. It means you recognize it and try to understand it so you can grow.
Share this story to pay tribute to one wonderful woman, Chrissy Steltz!