It takes true courage and strength of character to push through difficult times that we face as individuals. It is our grittiest moments that give us our grace in life. For the second feature, I wanted to share Kimberly’s courageous story. She caught my attention immediately on social media because of her positivity and humor as she states that she is a self-proclaimed comedian. Most importantly, Kimberly demonstrates so much strength and endless support as an advocate for Sepsis and Bell’s Palsy Awareness due to her own personal struggles with both.

In August 2005, Kimberly sensed something wasn’t quite right as she felt her eye twitching during a work meeting. Within hours, Kimberly felt as though she was suffering from a stroke as her face was completely drawn to one side.

After rushing to the hospital to receive answers, Kimberly recalls feeling humiliated and so hurt as she was laughed at by an ER physician for arriving there with a diagnosis of Bell’s Palsy.  Sent on her way, Kimberly was prescribed a mild dose of steroids and reassured that this would heal within a few weeks time. Yet, as months passed, there had been no progression. Due to this ongoing prognosis, she was then advised to endure shock treatment therapy where the goal was to ‘jolt’ her muscles and nerves back into functioning order. Yet again, after a year of shock therapy, Kimberly continued to see no improvement in her Bell’s palsy recovery.

Thankfully, Kimberly was able to get an appointment with a neurologist who was part of the facial paralysis division at the Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. Unfortunately, during this particular consultation, she received the devastating news that her BP was now irreversible.

“I was not given the right steroids nor the correct dosage. The shock treatment did more damage than good. I should never have had that therapy done. I now had residual Bell’s Palsy and synkinesis. I was told I would never smile again and this is what it is.”

Later on, in 2010, Kimberly discovered a new therapist who specialized in facial paralysis at Duke University Medical Center. From there, her therapist connected her with the proper surgeons and where she scheduled her first facial reanimation surgery for February 2011.

(Kimberly with Doctor Michael Zenn; One of the two surgeons who performed her facial reanimation surgery.)

For her first surgical procedure, Kimberly had a Gracilis Free Flap Transplant; which is a procedure that involves transplanting a particular muscle and its’ associated nerve to the cheek for smile restoration. Not only did Kimberly endure an invasive facial reanimation surgery but she also mentions that she underwent two other invasive surgeries afterward. The primary focus of those two post surgeries was on her brow and her eye on the BP side, to reduce the appearance of droopiness. Kimberly states that  throughout this time, she has learned to love and embrace her FP as a character of hers rather than a flaw.

In regards to beauty advice, Kimberly shares that she now sees beauty as much more than a face and a smile.

“Smiling is a universal language. The same doctor who told me I’d never smile again also told me that I was beautiful regardless and that I smiled through my eyes as well. I didn’t get it at that very moment, but later these words resonated with me. I do smile through my eyes, my heart and my personality.”

Kimberly expresses the importance to women who have been diagnosed with FP to learn to be okay with themselves and to not feel that they must wear makeup. She states that all women who may suffer from FP should try to be comfortable with who they are as this is an incredible achievement to possess.

Trying to achieve this level of security within yourself can be a challenging aspect especially in our society today. Kimberly expresses how she has encountered a couple people who showed complete disrespect in regards to her bell’s palsy which wasn’t easy for her. One of those people being a family member during a vacation who asked her very rudely why she was talking out of the side of her mouth. Thankfully, another family member jumped in to mediate the situation. Importantly, Kimberly has learned a lot from these negative encounters. She states that people who express this type of disrespect are the ones with the problem and apprehensions about her facial paralysis, not her. “I’m okay with myself!”

To overcome any negative thoughts she has, Kimberly never wallows in self-pity or lets it control her. She discusses how she always dislikes the term; it is what it is.

“I think it’s whatever you make of it. And I chose not to make it my crutch. Yes, I have a disability, but I never use it or view it as one. It took me a few years to learn that I have something I can help others with.”

Kimberly emphasizes the importance of not allowing a diagnosis of facial paralysis consume you. Through her very own journey, Kimberly shares that she has discovered a whole new confidence because she is determined and knows that through her faith in God that she will overcome this and many other obstacles.

“Yes, I may still be lopsided, but finding my inner confidence and knowing that I am NOT this medical problem has actually gotten me a lot more compliments. People notice confidence through the inner beauty you emit much more.” ♥

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