Dan's Fund for Burns :: Need some help? :: Survivors stories
Katie Piper and her amazing recovery
Katie Piper was young and beautiful; a model and budding TV presenter, the 24-year-old had a glowing future ahead of her. But on 31st March 2008 a vicious acid attack destroyed her face – and with it her career and life as she knew it. More than a year on, and having undergone countless operations and rounds of physiotherapy, Katie has now chosen to give up her anonymity and tell her own story for the first time.
This remarkable Cutting Edge film will be shown on Channel 4 on October 29th. Including CCTV footage of the attack, it follows Katie as she undergoes pioneering treatment and attempts to re-build her life, while two men stand trial for the horrific attack. Katie bravely tells her story with compelling frankness, surprising humour and an extraordinary lack of self-pity as she tries to accept her appearance and start again.
A couple of weeks before the attack Katie’s life seemed perfect - she lived in London with friends and had a hectic work and social life. "I was a fun person," says Katie. "I had lots of friends. If I went somewhere and people met me for the first time they would say 'Oh, you're really pretty' and I would think 'Yeah, I am'."
She'd just started seeing a new boyfriend. Thirty-two year-old Danny Lynch had been following Katie's modeling career and asked her out for a date on Facebook. But Danny wanted to see Kate so much that her friends called him her 'number one fan'. His attentions became intense and jealous. After dating for a fortnight, the couple booked into a hotel after a night out in London. But when Katie wanted to go straight to sleep, Danny became aggressive and threatened her - Katie endured eight hours of violent sexual abuse. She was only able to leave when she convinced Danny that they could still be a couple. Katie returned to her flat, but was too scared to call her family or the police.
Two days after the rape attack Katie had still not left her flat, but Danny called incessantly demanding she leave to read messages he had left on her Facebook account at a local internet café. When she finally agreed, Katie was unaware that a 19-year-old man, Stefan Sylvestre, was pacing up and down Golders Green High Street waiting for her. In his clenched hands he held a cup of sulphuric acid, with orders from Danny Lynch. When Katie left the flat, on the phone to Danny, Sylvestre approached her and threw the acid into her face.
"As I came out of the door, this guy walked towards me in a hoodie," Katie says in the film. "His arms were locked holding this coffee cup. So I thought well he must be begging. I started to try and get my money out of my bag and as I did this guy just went like whoosh. It hit like this side of my face and it was eating across my face and it was like some contagious disease eating me up.”
Katie ran into her local café to get help, an ambulance was called and she was rushed into intensive care. The attack was caught on CCTV and Sylvestre was arrested. He admitted throwing the acid, but claimed he had been ordered to carry out the attack by Danny Lynch. Meanwhile Katie's parents were called by the police to tell them what had happened.
"I can remember going 'Not her face, please not her face'", says Katie's mum, Diane. "I knew if anything happened to her face as far as she was concerned it would be the end of everything."
The acid destroyed the skin on much of Katie's face, neck and hands, and left her blind in one eye. It also burnt her nose and throat so severely that she needs to be fed through a tube in her stomach. Her sight may never be restored and she has undergone over thirty reconstructive operations on her skin and oesophagus. Katie also wears a special plastic pressure mask for 23 hours a day, in an effort to flatten her scars. After the attack, Katie spent seven weeks in the burns unit at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. She was placed in an induced coma and spent ten days in intensive care. Surgeons, led by consultant Mr Jawad, took the drastic decision to remove the skin from Katie's entire face and use a skin substitute called Matriderm to re-build the foundations before grafting skin from her back onto her face – it’s the first operation of its kind to be done in one operation.
During the early stages of her recovery Katie was unable to talk. She could only communicate through writing – at one point she wrote to her mum Diane, "Kill me". And when Katie was handed a mirror to see herself for the first time, she thought there was something wrong with it.
"I remember thinking, you know, someone's going to have to hand me another mirror because this one is totally broken", says Katie in the film. "And then I realised that it was me. And I just wanted to just smack it in my face and just cut my face open and tear the whole thing off".
As well as her NHS care in Britain, Katie was sent to a specialist rehabilitation centre in France and at home her days are filled with specialist scar management routines. She relies on her mum and dad for help and Diane has given up full-time work to care for her daughter. But thanks to the treatment, Katie has made amazing progress.
"She became very special, because of the nature of the accident", says consultant Mr Jawad. "She’s very young and very brave, and very determined and she's doing very well. She made us all very proud and gave us a lot of hope for a lot of other people".
However, as well as physical scars, the attack has left its mental mark. Katie is understandably obsessed with ensuring that every door and window at her parents' home is locked; she suffers from nightmares and can't sleep through the night.
"My appearance is a constant reminder of what he did to me and almost like I belong to him because it’s not really my face it's the one he created through the attack", says Katie. "I'll always have his marks all over my face and all over my body. I’ll always, look in a mirror and be reminded of what happened to me."
Danny Lynch pleaded his innocence, but was found guilty of inciting the acid attack in October 2008. However the jury could not reach a verdict on the rape charge and a second trial finally found Lynch guilty of both crimes in April 2009. Lynch was given two life sentences and will serve at least sixteen years in jail. Stefan Sylvestre received a 12-year sentence, with a minimum of six years behind bars.
With her attackers convicted Katie is determined to re-build her life. The film follows Katie as she finally steps outside her parents' house alone for the first time since the attack. And she describes what she hopes the future will hold.
"I think I've got the chance to build a life", says Katie in the film. "I don’t it's going to be that easy, but I wanna try. I want to move on from my attack, and I don’t want to be a scared little child. I want to blossom into a confident, able woman. My dream would be just to live a normal life and after all this be able to meet somebody again and learn to trust a guy and the normal dream: a girl wants to get married and have kids".
Katie: My Beautiful Face was shown as part of Channel 4's Cutting Edge strand on October 29th 2009. The film was produced and directed by Jessie Versluys for Mentorn Media, with Executive Producers Dan Goldsack and John Willis.
"Thank you so much everyone for your kind and generous donations to our cause. We have raised nearly £5,000 for Dans Fund For Burns which is fantastic and has helped us to repay the generosity of DFFB to us as a family without which we would not have been able to cover many of the costs involved in her treatment in France."