A man recovering from facial reconstruction surgery is hallucinating and melting hearts online.
Justin Starks, 24, went viral on Reddit’s Interesting As F*** forum after sharing a video of him wiggling his eyebrows, a big step up from his major operation in January.
On November 30, 2021, Starks fell from a three-story balcony, breaking every bone in his face. He said news week: “In many ways, I was lucky. In fact, I don’t remember the fall or the impact.
“Many people assume I must have been in agony, but when I regained consciousness I was already taking some very strong painkillers.”
The Atlanta man was in the hospital for two weeks after the fall and underwent surgery to repair his jaw. He underwent facial reconstruction surgery on Martin Luther King Day in January and has been sharing updates about his recovery on Reddit and his Instagram account @Starks_One.
“During the second [surgery]I had a coronal incision made, basically cutting from ear to ear through my scalp, to remove my face and put the bones of my face back together,” he said.
“I also had to have my mouth wired shut from December to mid-February, which was honestly probably the most torturous part of the ordeal, as I couldn’t eat solid food.
“[By] In the end I had 30 plates, 91 bolts and lost 35 pounds.”
After the second surgery, Starks suffered from facial paralysis, which prevented him from moving his eyebrows, lips, or smiling. Over the last few months, he has gradually regained control of his features and continues to heal.
Facial reconstruction surgery can help repair damage caused by burns, trauma, or diseases such as cancer. A cosmetic surgeon restores the facial structure, sometimes using tissue from other parts of the patient’s body, to improve function and increase the patient’s confidence.
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, nearly 7 million reconstructive surgeries were performed in the US in 2020. The most frequently performed surgeries include tumor removal, laceration repair, scar revision, hand surgery, and maxillofacial surgery similar to the Starks procedure.
For many people, reconstructive surgery can be life changing. In 2021, a 9-year-old boy who was mauled by a hyena in Zimbabwe received free reconstructive surgery in neighboring South Africa, after losing his left eye, nose, and parts of his upper lip and forehead in the attack. In 2019, a Californian plastic surgeon who survived breast cancer said news week how reconstructive surgery helped her come to terms with her diagnosis.
Denial of such surgery can have a devastating impact on a person’s mental health. In February of this year, Davontae Stewart, who has keloid scars covering 75 percent of his body, was left in despair after discovering that the surgeries weren’t covered by his insurance. Although the scar tissue had affected his mobility and forced him to resign from his job, the Detroit man was told the procedure was classified as “cosmetic.”
Starks has not had to deal with this problem. While the video of his recovery is remarkable, it is his upbeat attitude that has captivated social media users. When a generous redditor offered to contribute to her medical bills, he asked them to donate money to charity. He also feels that he is “lucky” that he didn’t land on his skull or neck, as the situation could have been “much worse”.
“I often think how lucky I am [that] my life was not interrupted, so I want to take the opportunity that was given to me, experience the things that I want to experience, and live my best life.”
The support he has received online has been overwhelming, he said, motivating him to update the world on his progress.
“I didn’t expect overwhelming support from complete strangers,” he said. “But I had thousands and thousands of [people] commenting, telling me how well I was recovering.
Since the accident, Starks has earned his master’s degree, started his first job and put down the down payment on his first house. Although his recovery is not complete and he will need more dental and reconstructive work, he is happy with his life.
He said: “I have an identical twin brother. My doctor, when he was taking my case, he told me that his goal was to get me to the point where I was the ‘prettier twin’.
“Once we reach that, I can definitely say mission accomplished!”