By Regina Varolli
Friday, November 5, 2010
In December a victim of domestic violence will have her reconstruction surgery broadcast in a Discovery Health documentary. She wasn't looking for this publicity, but had given up on a pro-bono referral service that in her case broke down.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Ilianexy (Lilly) Morales' troubles began on July 1, 2005.
She was living with her bed-ridden mother after just having left her boyfriend of three years because he was "controlling and verbally abusive." When he came to her mother's house looking for her, he pulled out a knife that he had taped around his sock and mercilessly slashed her face and body.
"I was a mess," said Morales. "There was blood everywhere. But the police were able to capture and arrest my ex." He is now serving a 15-year prison sentence.
Morales' Medicaid coverage paid for several surgeries on the muscles and nerves in her hands and arms. But her facial scarring was considered cosmetic and not covered.
Four years later, Morales was still unable to work.
"The injuries were all over my body," Morales said in a phone interview. "But of course when people see me, the first thing they see is my face."
In 2009, Morales began to research the possibility of getting help from domestic violence organizations.
On the Internet she found Maria DiBari, a survivor of domestic violence in New York who runs the blog 4survivors.
"Maria replied to me right away," said Morales, "and she referred me to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence."
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), based in Denver, Colo., provides referrals to FACE TO FACE, a program run by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. The program has one dedicated staff member and 400 enrolled volunteer doctors.
Morales says she followed the instructions on the Cosmetic and Reconstructive Support program page, then waited. She didn't hear anything about her application for several months.
"I felt really hopeless at the time, like I'd never get the help I needed," she said.
Morales went back to DiBari.
"I immediately started calling the NCADV myself," DiBari said in a phone interview. "But I didn't hear back from them either."
In a Sept. 21, 2009, post, DiBari wrote about Morales' predicament.
About two months later Morales received a call from Maria Luisa O'Neill, the staffer at that National Coalition Against Domestic Violence responsible for the Cosmetic and Reconstructive Support program.
Shortly after that, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence screened and approved Morales, but provided no limit on the waiting time limit for further news.
"We don't have the list of doctors," O'Neill said in a recent phone interview. "The NCADV never gets feedback on what happens once an applicant is passed on to FACE TO FACE."
Dr. Andrew Jacono is chair of the FACE TO FACE program. "Because of privacy laws, we can't tell NCADV or anyone else when a woman has had, or not had, a surgery," he said in a recent interview.
Several months after Morales was approved by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a cosmetic surgeon who was a member of FACE TO FACE noticed Morales' story on DiBari's 4survivors blog.
Dr. Oleh Slupchynskyj's assistant contacted Morales through 4survivors.
"I didn't get referred by FACE TO FACE, but Dr. Slupchynskyj was a member and they had never sent him a patient," Morales said. "Once I showed him my approval letter from NCADV, he did work on just one small scar, but he wanted to wait four months to see how the healing would be."