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Emily’s story: getting her smile back after jaw splitting accident

a Selfie of Emily Eccles after surgery
08 October 2019

On a Saturday evening in August this year, 15 year old Emily arrived at Sheffield Children’s Emergency Department with her jaw split into two after a horse riding accident.

Emily arrived at the hospital with just 1 centimetre of skin keeping her jaw attached and she was in need of emergency surgery.

3D CT scan of Emilys jaw before surgery

A 3D CT scan after the accident just before her surgery

After nearly five hours of surgery and after care at the hospital, Emily is making a good recovery and although she will be under the care of Sheffield Children’s for a long time, her surgeon Mr Mohammed-Ali said he is ‘extremely pleased with her recovery so far.’

Emily, from Sheffield, describes how it happened: “We’d been riding for a while when we came up to a gate onto the road. Then a car came round the corner and my horse started to gallop.

“We went round one corner to the left and I leant into it, then another to the right and this time, as I leant to that side, a wooden post smashed into the right side of my jaw. I think I was in so much shock that I didn’t feel much pain.”

Emily was taken to Sheffield Children’s Emergency Department by road ambulance, after being examined she went into the operating theatre where Consultant Facial Reconstructive Surgeon Ricardo Mohammed-Ali performed the specialist surgery from 9.05pm to 2.40am.

She said: “When we got to the Emergency Department, the nurses were great, talking me through everything. They kept chatting to me all the way. Then the surgeon came and he was so cool, calm and collected.”

Mr Mohammed-Ali, who is based at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and works at Sheffield Children’s, said: “Emily’s injury was significant in that the entire left side of her lower jaw from the front of the jaw to the joint was pulled away from the face and only retained by a small strip of skin. The nerves that supply sensation to the lip and chin was torn on both sides. Branches of the facial nerve that move the muscles of the lower lip were severed on both sides. The lower part of Emily’s face was only attached by a piece of skin.”

Dr Mohammed-Ali added: “It could have been worse, but it is one of the most significant injuries that I have seen in a child outside of areas of conflict.”

Emily’s mum said: “With the air ambulance, she could’ve been taken anywhere but we were very lucky that Mr Ali was at Sheffield Children’s. We’re writing to the Queen to get him a knighthood!”

Emily’s dad added: “We were included in the process all the way through and the surgeon explained everything; what might go wrong and his plan B if it did, even a plan C.”

Mr Mohammed-Ali said: “It is critical that the family is aware of three points; the extent of the injury, the plan for treatment and alternative options, the potential complications and treatment if these develop.”

As part of the surgery, titanium plates were fitted into Emily’s face. She still has scarring, but this will fade in time.

Mr Mohammed-Ali explained: “Emily will remain under my care for a long time. I will monitor the healing and growth of the lower jaw and treat accordingly. The scar will mature over 12 to 18 months and I will treat it depending on the appearance as it matures. I am extremely pleased with her recovery so far.”

Her mum said: “We’ve been told in a year’s time that people standing at a conversational distance won’t be able to notice the scarring.

Selfie of Emily

Emily 7 weeks after the accident

“When we were at the hospital we saw the Emergency Department, anaesthetists, surgeons, High Dependency Unit, clinical psychologists, community nurses, play specialists and therapy dogs too! Without exception the staff have all had a smile on their face and been incredibly professional.”

Emily added: “Two out of the three times I’ve ridden a horse, it’s ended in surgery. But it hasn’t felt like a hospital. I can’t believe how much I laughed when I was staying on the ward!”

Emily is one of many hundreds of children and young people who access the hospital’s Emergency Department throughout the year. The Children’s Hospital Charity which supports Sheffield Children’s is currently fundraising to help improve and expand the department – Emily’s family are also fundraising to support the campaign as a thank you to the staff who helped her.

Emily nearly came to the emergency department via helicopter but the specialist air ambulance crew decided as it was a busy summer’s day it was quicker and safer to travel with her via road ambulance – rather than having to move everyone from Weston Park opposite the hospital for the helicopter to land. The family have been fundraising to support the hospital to build a helipad which will provide a safer and quicker route to the emergency department as well as providing more dignity for patients arriving. You can support the appeal on The Children’s Hospital Charity website here.

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