It is a beautiful spring day at Heritage Park in Slidell, Louisiana. We are here to meet Lauren Faciane, who has taken time off from studying to meet us. (She is working toward her Master’s degree in Criminal Justice and Psychology).
The fact that we are here to photograph and interview her says everything you need to know about her newfound confidence:
In July of 2015, Lauren underwent surgery to correct a congenital condition known as hypertelorism. Quite simply, her eyes were too far apart — so far apart, indeed, that it affected her vision.
Her mother, Loretta, recalls the shock of that discovery: “We didn’t know that she couldn’t see properly and she didn’t know how to tell us, but she wasn’t focusing properly. There were some scary moments when she started driving.”
Worse, Lauren had felt ostracized during much of her childhood. “I had been called various things for a lot of years, never really knowing why. Why me?”
Her mother worried that people were missing out, and the fact is they probably were.
But you meet Lauren now and you can’t help but be impressed. Kind, smart, and, above all, unafraid. She possesses the kind of confidence that comes from having passed the most difficult test of her life.
Lauren was 19 when a geneticist told her that the condition she had lived with all her life had a name: hypertelorism.
“It was a shakeup,” she recalls. “It had a name, and I had it. So that was scary, but at the same time it also meant that something could be done about a condition that had caused me such insecurity.”
Previously, Lauren had been told that her condition could never be fixed. No one had ever told her that there was a surgical option available to correct hypertelorism. Now, however, the family was referred to Dr. Hugo St. Hilaire.
Using a state-of-the-art technique known as Virtual Surgical Planning, craniofacial surgeons like Dr. St. Hilaire are able to perform structural surgeries that they never would have dared attempt before.
“I liked him from the very first meeting,” Lauren says. “He was the most professional, personable doctor that I have ever met. He knew what he was talking about and put my mom at ease.”
Her mother confirms this: “Dr. St. Hilaire was a really nice guy. He was real honest about what could and could not happen. I liked him. I really did. He wasn’t an arrogant specialist like so many others.”
Virtual Surgical Planning
Lauren (and her mother) had to prepare themselves for what was undeniably major surgery.
“It took us a couple years to come to grips with what would be happening,” Loretta admits. “I was more scared than Lauren. She really was brave about it… she met the challenge head-on.”
Truthfully, as you might expect, Lauren was somewhat anxious. “One of the few things I have no problems with is my brain—I have been called smart my whole life, so I was a little nervous about them opening up my head… but doing nothing wasn’t helping me medically or socially. I knew what I wanted to do.”
Thanks to the latest advances in computer science – and a process known as Virtual Surgical Planning – Dr. St. Hilaire and his team knew exactly how surgery would proceed. There would be no surprises. He performed two surgeries to reduce the distance between Lauren’s eyes by 22 millimeters. (That is just a little bit less than an inch!)
Lauren remembers that last moment before surgery: “I was in the car on the way to the hospital, and I thought, ‘This is it! This is the moment,’ and there were five to ten minutes where it was really scary.
“Everyone at the hospital was so nice though, the anesthesiologist, the nurses, everyone, and they kept me calm. They weren’t frantic or anything.”
Recovering From Craniofacial Surgery
Lauren woke up in the ICU. She was by herself, and already she could tell that her line of vision was changed. “I thought, whoa, things look different,” she says.
She was in the hospital for three days and didn’t look in the mirror until she was on her way out. “I thought I would look like a chipmunk, but it was mainly just a little puffy in the area.”
Her mother was amazed. “There was no brusing or swelling. It was so meticulously done, so clean and neat, and you think of Dr. St. Hilaire, it’s impressive…
“Those are skilled hands. Those are blessed hands.”
Lauren had some headaches and soreness during that first week, and nine months later, she still has to be careful when she puts her hair in a ponytail. “Not too tight!”
A New Start
“It is still a process,” she says. “After a lifetime of seeing yourself one way—literally and figuratively—it can be hard to see yourself differently, the emotions can get confusing, but you look at an old picture and there is a difference.”
Her mother sees it: “You can see a difference in her attitude.”
And meeting Lauren, it’s hard to miss. For others considering major craniofacial surgery she recommends taking the risk. “When I think back on the care which was taken with me, I say as long as you trust the doctor, go for it.”
Her mother agrees, and she will do the math for you: “Do the research. Research the process and the doctor—in the full span of a person’s life, surgery is just a small blip. 6 weeks of recovery, 1 year for all the bones to settle, but say you live 80 years, that’s just 1.25%, and from that point on it’s a whole new start.”