Medical breakthrough gives back mirror image of old faces

Medical breakthrough gives back mirror image of old faces
Tami Porter (Source: WMC Action News 5)
Tami Porter (Source: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - 29-year-old Marine Corps veteran Michael Dustin Hale is a survivor. He lives every day overcoming Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

But the scars on Hale's face are not from his time on duty.

On August 28, 2013, a crash changed Michael's life forever.

"I was coming from a buddy's house in Jackson and I was headed back toward Pinson and I just blacked out driving down the road," Hale said. "And whenever I come to, my blazer was in the air, headed for the woods."

Family members witnessed the horrid aftermath—a shattered windshield, a crushed roof, and a crumbled hood.

"There was a medicine problem taking medicine for PTSD and panic attacks," Hale said. "There was a problem with my medicine, and so they ruled it that I had a panic attack driving down the road. My face went through the windshield and stuck there. And I had to pull my face out of the windshield and when I did, it ripped every bit of this off."

Hale suffered severe facial lacerations, a concussion, and lost his left ear.

Doctors took skin form Hale's leg and put it on his face—they used 658 stitches and 38 staples to repair his head. His ear, though, could not be replaced.

Then came the magic of Hollywood.

"So you're being kind of like a special effects artist in some ways, right. You're being a little bit of a magician, a little bit of an artist and of course the retention--making it work. That's the science," Maddie Singer said.

Singer created special effects makeup for film and TV for 13 years. Then, she discovered that pairing art and science is a magnetic attraction.

Singer is now the Director of Anaplastology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. She's the mastermind behind Hale's ability to smile from ear to ear again.

"So when they go out into the world, that nobody stares at them and makes them feel uncomfortable," Singer said. "That it never changed the fact that they're still a wonderful person or a great person or a funny person."

The prostheses Singer creates are mirror images of the parts many patients have lost.

The detailing in a nose goes down to the veins. The color of an eye is exact—the pupils even appear to move.

Tami Porter is also a patient of Singer.

"It gave me my life back," Porter said.

Porter, a grandmother of six, started going blind in 2010.

"When they did the cataract surgery, when they got in there, they realized that it wasn't a cataract," Porter said. "I actually had a stroke. So the surgery, it didn't take. It wasn't healing. So that's why they took the eye out."

Once active and outgoing, Porter said the loss of her eye also took away a piece of her spirit. Her pain was both emotional and physical.

"After the surgery, for a week when it hurt to blink and all of those eye drops they give you, you know, you just have to get through that," she said.

Now, her joy has returned—Singer is happy to bring back a missing part of her life.

"When a patient tells me, you know, 'oh my God, I can't wait to go out into the world and not feel like a freak, and not feel strange, and not feel embarrassed,' that's just an amazing, powerful feeling that I can do that with art," Singer said. "That art can transform people's lives; it's such a powerful tool."

Watch an extended Facebook Live interview with Singer below:

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