Wednesday, October 27, 2004

New face brings hope

Hailey woman is first Idaho client in reconstructive surgery program

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Express Staff Writer

Jennifer Colver outside her home a few days before her operation. Photo by David N. Seelig

Reconstruction of a Life
First in a series of three

Twenty years after becoming a victim of domestic violence, Jennifer Rose Colver owns her life again.

When she moved to Ketchum at age 18 she was impressionable and wild. Life revolved around partying and Colver soon became involved with the wrong man. He beat her?something she couldn?t acknowledge at first?manipulated her and taught her, through his actions and words, to hate herself.

Colver?s nose was broken twice. Her face still bears randomly located scars from glass broken over her head and face. Her teeth and mouth were ravaged and her self-esteem was shot.

?The more I screamed and yelled for him to stop, I?d be told to shut up (and) the worse it became,? Colver said.

?I learned to lie when I went to the hospital. It was normal to be popped in the face. When we were living in Carey, that was (when I got) the cinder block to my nose. That was the most damage.?

Recently, Colver, 41, became the first person in Idaho to be a client for Face to Face: The National Domestic Violence Project and Give Back a Smile.

Sponsored by the American Academy of Facial Reconstructive Surgery, Face to Face is a humanitarian and educational surgical program that helps women who are victims of domestic abuse by setting them up with physicians in their area.

Board-certified medical personnel donate their time and expertise to repair both physical and psychological scars so those women can regain their self-esteem and rebuild their lives.

Colver is bright, kind and personable. Her positive outlook is both remarkable and inspiring. She?s also an aspiring advocate for those like herself. The process of rebuilding her life, becoming sober and dealing legally with her ex-husband and his behavior has taught her that she?s not alone. Colver wants to be there for other women the way people have been there for her, she said.

Chief among the reasons she operates on such a high and enthusiastic scale now is the help she?s received from the Hailey-based Advocates for Survivors of Domestic Violence.

?I have 20 years I?m trying to reroute in my head,? Colver said prior to her surgery. ?I?m pretty strong now, but I had to decide not to put up with it. After 14 years I started trying to get help.?

To be eligible for the Face to Face program, a client must be psychologically healed. The journey has been difficult for Colver. Even when she was divorced and had moved to Twin Falls, her ex husband broke into her home and beat her, in front of their young son.

?Most of the damage was done to my mouth,? she said. ?There were hairline fractures to my jaw, my teeth were falling out. I was sinking into a deep dilemma--I was dumb, stupid, a bad person. I could never be better. I knew I needed help but I thought I was all of those things I was told. And I was embarrassed. My family knew but they didn?t understand. I was scared to death.?

Finding the inner strength to move on took a long time.

?I?m not afraid anymore. I want my soul back.?

She attributed her first steps to Beaver Burke, victim?s advocate with the Advocates for Survivors of Domestic Violence. The two met in 2000, after Colver had moved to Hailey with her children.

?She?s the angel on my shoulder,? Colver said. ?Even though you get away from it, it?s still there in your head. In my mind I just had to keep going.?

Burke said they couldn?t get a court order for no contact because there was no immediate threat.

?But the judge did a great job of explaining to the alleged abuser the consequences of stalking her,? Burke said.

?This guy was still making her life?challenging,? she recalled, struggling for the appropriate word. ?Over time, we provided some counseling and hooked her up with legal aid. After a couple years, we began to talk every couple of days. That?s when I began to see this amazing woman who knew that deep down inside there were really great qualities, but didn?t know or acknowledge that they were there.?

After Colver gave up drinking, her feelings became frightening to her. Without the numbness alcohol could provide, Colver was faced with her fears. But there was also a great deal of anger and it surprised her.

?I got really sick, and quit everything,? Colver said. ?My whole world changed. In the ambulance on the way to the hospital, I couldn?t breathe. I said ?Please God, I?ll change my ways.? I broke the cycle and put it all back together.?

Even though Burke had known Colver for three years, she began seeing something new in her. It was a steely resolve to cope with her life without self-medication.

?I saw such change. It was amazing,? Burke said. ?She?d never told me what kind of abuse she?d taken, but she began telling me and it was horrible. She was having trouble breathing so I told her there are these programs out there. When I first told her about the Face to Face program she said, ?I don?t deserve that. Other people need it more than me.? It?s never been vanity. She said to me ?When I look in the mirror, I see what he did, not the person I was before or who I want to be now.?

Colver has already undergone work on her mouth with Ketchum dentist Dr. Jeffery Roth to clear up chronic gum disease and remove bad teeth.

Meanwhile, on Monday, Oct. 18, with her parents in the waiting room, Colver was in the operating room at the Treasure Valley Hospital having a septorhinoplasty performed by Dr. Bret Rodgers. He and the surgical scrub tech Ronae Martinez first painstakingly removed bone and cartilage from Colver?s upper nasal area. Then he cut the columella and pulled it back to expose the internal anatomy.

The cartilage underneath her skin was totally unbalanced. Rodgers snipped at it in small tiny pieces to even out the sides. ?I?m just sculpting now,? he said. He eventually snipped between the tip defining points, splitting the two sides of Colver?s nose. Then, he inserted a piece of her cartilage taken from the upper nasal area and stitched that in place.

?This will push the nose up a bit,? he said. ?It?s better both aesthetically and functionally since there?ll be less constriction.?

A chisel was then used to soften the bridge of the nose, and scraping of the bone followed. Every few minutes, Rodgers put the skin back over the cartridge, carefully tapped it down and checked the results.

?I?ve been involved with Face to Face for awhile,? he said. ?No one?s ever taken me up on (the offer) yet. It?s not easy. It?s not just free surgery for someone who walks in and claims to be abused. There?s a lot of paperwork to go through. The healing must occur within before the surgery.?

Also, a three-hour surgery such as he performed on Colver means hiring staff who will also work pro bono. The Treasure Valley Hospital is unique in that it is physician owned. The hospital does only elective work, mostly plastic surgery, hip replacements, shoulders and knees.

While touring the facility after the operation, Julia Shoemaker, the hospital?s marketing director, explained that the hospital?s involvement in reaching out to domestic violence victims is fueled partly by two staff members? own tragedy. Receptionist Angie Leon was killed last year by her husband, Abel Leon, who then set their house on fire to cover his tracks. After the murder, Leon made threatening calls to his mother-in-law, Sylvia Flores, who also worked at the hospital, forcing the administration to install new locks and keypads.

Several days after her operation, Colver was back at home in Hailey.

?He?s done an awesome job,? she said. ?My spirits are really high. It?s painful but I?m so excited.?

Colver is eager to work on getting transitional housing for abused women in Idaho. Currently, there is nowhere for an abused woman to go after she leaves an emergency shelter such as the Advocates? shelter in Hailey.

Colver is inspired by Denise Brown, sister of the late Nicole Brown Simpson, who has built transitional housing units in California.

Brown spoke this summer at the Angie Leon Golf Tournament in Boise, and began the national in-school program ?Hands are not for Hitting, Words are not for Hurting.?

?She?s so ready to give back,? Burke said. ?There are so many heartbreaking moments in this job. It takes someone like Jen to remind me it?s all worthwhile. Every human being matters so much. She wants to make a difference.?

Colver?s dental surgery is tentatively scheduled for next week, if her recovery from the septorhinoplasty goes well. Roth said he is ?reshaping her mouth to give her back shape and stabilize the whole mouth.?

Burke, Roth and Colver are working through the Idaho Victim?s Compensation program to arrange funding for the continued dental work.

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