Program supports survivors of domestic abuse, helps them smile again

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Two women are speaking about the violent relationships they’ve overcome and a program which is helping survivors smile again. 

Maribel Garcia grew up in a home, filled with fear.

“As a child I grew up in a very violent environment. … I’m the only child no siblings and I witnessed my father beating up my mom,” she said. “He molested me sexually for many years. That’s what I saw and learned.”

Desperate for a way out, Garcia jumped into marriage.

“I married the wrong guy not because I loved him but because I saw the door to freedom,” she said.

But her husband was also quick with his fists. 

“He didn’t care where we were he would beat me up,” she said. “He would punch me in the mouth. That’s why my teeth are a little bit crooked.” 

In spite of the abuse, Garcia was afraid to leave. She stayed for her son. Until one day, she snapped — and threw herself off a balcony.

“I don’t remember climbing and jumping,” she said. “That’s how bad it was. … I woke up in intensive care. I literally wanted to die. Not because I didn’t care about my kids, but the emotional pain was unbearable.”

That moment turned out to be her wake-up call. Garcia started her foundation Break the Silence back in 2005 and works to help countless domestic violence survivors over the years. 

Then in 2019, a different kind of call came in – someone from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery asked Garcia to be part of their face-to-face program.

They wanted to partner survivors, with plastic surgeons, to help fix pro-bono what life has broken.

“They reached out because someone had to run this program … receiving the applications and overseeing the documents,” Garcia said.

Mokerah Bradley was among those who applied.

“When you’re a survivor, you’ve no clue you’ve walked into a horror story,” she said.  “You don’t even know you’re the main character.”

Bradley’s horror story started in September of 2018 and for a few months, he was her prince charming. 

“If the first five months was perfect, the next three months I was fighting for my life,” she said.

With her own son – and this man’s children involved – she was doing her best to keep everyone around her safe.

“I’m protecting my son,” Bradley said. “I’m protecting his kids but who is protecting me?” 

She says she knew she had to get out after a very specific dream her son had. 

“He woke up in a trance. He said, ‘Mommy he’s going break everything in our house. And he’s going break you also.’”

Bradley said the man tried, even after she managed to move into a new building.

“He snuck in, had a knife and a hammer at my door,” she said. “I kept on screaming, ‘What are you going to do when you get in? Is this the end of me?’” 

He didn’t get to her that time, but eventually, he did and cornered her inside of her car.

“He looked at me, grabbed me and just started hitting my face,” she said. “Once I got out of the vehicle, I began to run. He picked me up and body slammed me into the concrete twice. I saw all the blood.”

Bradley ended up in the hospital. The doctors patched her up, but the scars remained.

“It was so bittersweet,” she said. “This world is committed to beauty. That was a gift given to me and he tried to take something from me. And I needed to figure out how to reclaim it.”

That’s exactly what she’s been doing through Face-to-Face and Break the Silence. She was paired up with Dr Benjamin Caughlin.

“He is one of the best,” she said. “He has a heart of gold.”

“She had a trauma on her face, on the center of her nose,” Caughlin said. “Forehead scars on the midline of the face really bother people.”

He’s been helping fade her facial scars — free of charge. 

“The treatments I’ve done with this woman would cost $7,000 to $10,000 at this point,” he said. “She doesn’t have the means to pay for that. I can donate my time and some of our equipment here.”

Caughlin and other surgeons have done this for many survivors absorbing the costs as they go.

 But he says more can be done.

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“I would do these all day every day,” he said. “The goal would be to get it more widespread and get other surgeons involved to get the costs covered.”

With each procedure, the pain of the past becomes a little more distant for Bradley.

“We all wear marks and scars. That’s part of life. It doesn’t define you but you most definitely will be bigger and better,” she said.

Garcia’s ex-husband did a very brief stint behind bars many years ago. 

Bradley’s  ex-boyfriend was arrested on felony charges. He’s currently out on parole while she continues to pursue her case.

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