(ABC News)–Ilianexy Morales was in her 20s when she met a man outside her home in
New York City as he was asking for directions. He was older, 38, but
doting and generous, and they began dating exclusively.
He encouraged her to quit her job as a medical assistant and began to
support Morales, her 4-year-old daughter and bedridden mother. But soon,
his attentiveness turned to possessiveness and obsessive demands. She
had to ask permission to leave the house and he would spy on her at
“There was no violence, but other things, like control issues, jealousy … like who I would talk to,” she told ABCNews.com.
That would change. Three years into the oppressive relationship in 2005,
when Morales tried to break up with him, he cajoled his way into her
apartment and stabbed her more than 100 times with a butcher's knife,
partially severing her arms and nearly decapitating her, she said.
Morales survived after a month in a coma and seven initial surgeries —
one to reattach her arms — and her former boyfriend is now serving a
15-year sentence for assault with a deadly weapon, she said.
But she was left with horrendous scars all over her body, especially on her face.
Riddled with anxiety, she couldn't even look herself in the mirror. “I
didn't look like me,” Morales, 30, said. “I would hide a lot. I felt
really ashamed of myself even though it was not my fault.”
But in 2010, Face to Face, a program based in Alexandria, Va., gave Morales her face and her strength and her dignity back.
The charitable arm of the American Academy of Facial, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS), Face to Face provides about 1,500 surgeries a year to women in need in its National Domestic Violence Project.
“Ilianexy was critically injured,” said Dr. Andrew Jacono,
a New York City facial and reconstructive surgeon who took her case.
“It wasn't just a simple scar. She was almost stabbed to death. She
probably would have been killed if he wasn't stopped by a neighbor. He
was going to finish her off.”
Jacono donated his skills to perform seven hours of complicated “flap
surgery” on her face and neck. The outcome was “beautiful,” he said.
“She's a wonderful person with an amazing spirit. It gave her a lot of
“It's really gratifying to help these women,” he said. “Unfortunately,
people don't realize how common domestic violence is in this country.”
An estimated 1.3 million American women are victims of physical assault
by an intimate partner each year, about one in every four women,
according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Women like Morales, aged 20 to 40, are at the greatest risk
Jacono has since reconstructed the faces of women who have had acid
thrown in their faces and those who are scarred by gunshot wounds. He
was inspired to join Face to Face after doing a successful rhinoplasty
on a young patient in 1998. She had told him her broken nose was the
result of a car accident.
But three months later, the patient contacted him again. “She was crying
hysterically, the nose was crooked and collapsed again,” he said. “She
revealed that her husband had done it in the first place. It affected me
Face to Face's domestic violence project was launched in 1994 after
public outrage over the O.J. Simpson arrest and murder trial. Even
though Simpson was exonerated, the organization made a large donation to
the Nicole Brown Foundation.
Until then, the group offered surgical services in developing countries, which they still continue today.
The board reasoned that battered women had many support services
available to them for vocational and psychological rehabilitation, but
not the surgery that is “the final piece in their rehab, allowing them
to erase the memories of abuse physically from their faces.”
The American Academy of Facial, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery also
encouraged the cosmetic dentistry group to get involved because it was
receiving so many women with broken teeth.
Doctors work with local shelters and psychotherapists to find women who
cannot afford surgical services and associated facility and anesthesia
fees. To qualify, they need to have undergone therapy and been outside
of an abusive relationship for a significant period of time.
“We want to make sure that the patient is out of the cycle of violence,”
said Dr. Ed Williams, a facial plastic surgeon and clinical professor
at Albany Medical College in New York, who has been involved with the
domestic-violence program since its inception.
“We said, 'Let's take this and increase awareness and have a bigger
impact,'” Williams said. “Domestic violence is not acceptable. Remember
Anita Hill and how she changed the workplace? We can do the same thing.”
One of his patients was a woman in an abusive marriage who had to have
an identity change for protection after she left her husband. She had a
rhinoplasty to fix a broken nose after she had established her new life.
“When you talk to these folks, it's amazing what a difference it makes
in their lives,” Williams said. “Whether it's a scar or a cheekbone
fracture or a nasal fracture, every day they look in the mirror it digs
up those emotions.”
That was the case with Morales, whose life changed in an instant six days after she broke up with her boyfriend.
At the time of the assault, Morales was taking care of her mother, who
was disabled from a stroke. A health-care aide came in during the day.
Her boyfriend, a restaurant worker who also owned a fleet of taxis,
lived elsewhere, but supported the family.
“Many times before, I would break up with him and we would get back
together again,” she said. “Sometimes, he would tell me, 'If you ever
leave me, I will kill you or kill myself.' I never thought he meant it.”
She got frustrated with the restrictions he placed on her and his “total
control” and decided to leave in 2005. “But this time,” she said, “it
was for sure. It was the end.”
But on July 1, 2005, her boyfriend called to say he wanted to stop by to
give her one more check to help pay her bills. She agreed and when he
arrived at the apartment, he asked whether they could go into her
bedroom to talk, where there was more privacy.
“He started telling me how sad he was, and I was just using him and now I was leaving him,” Morales said.
“Then all of a sudden, he took out this knife from his sock … he started
attacking me immediately and didn't even give me time to react. I was
in complete shock. I couldn't get out and couldn't do anything. He was
He stabbed her everywhere: her shoulder, neck, breasts, arms, stomach and even her vaginal area.
“The last thing he did was the face,” she said. “I remember going in and out of consciousness.”
The aide and a neighbor who heard her screams called police. He was
arrested on the spot. Morales had cardiac arrest in the ambulance en
route to the hospital. Doctors told her family she might die.
Since then, she has had more than 17 surgeries for her wounds, followed
by physical therapy and psychological counseling. Once her pain
medications wore off at home, she was in shock and denial and grief set
“I could easily hide the scars on my body, but the face was difficult to hide and not even make-up helped,” Morales said.
“I was always strong and accepted what had happened,” she said. “My main
problem was seeing myself in the mirror. When I saw all the scars, I
felt like I was looking at another person.”
When Morales finally received her facial and neck surgery, she also got a
new set of teeth. Every one had been knocked out in the assault.
Now she has begun to work as a professional makeup artist and now has a
boyfriend, one who she says is stable psychologically and truly loves
“Finally, because of the surgery, I am able to appreciate people and life again,” she said.
But Morales warns other women to watch for the “red flags” of violence.
“If you are afraid of the person, get out, get help and go to a
“It's important to talk about it,” she added. “Women are losing their lives, getting beaten every day.”
Copyright 2013 by ABC News