Katie Piper is a best-selling international author, inspirational speaker, TV presenter and charity campaigner. She is also a young woman who has rebuilt her life after surviving a brutal attack in March 2008 at the age of 24, in which she was raped and had sulphuric acid thrown in her face. She spent two months in the Burns Unit at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital where she was placed in an induced coma in intensive care.
Katie’s surgeon Mr Mohammad Ali Jawad and his team performed pioneering surgery on Katie. They chose to remove the dead layers of skin from Katie’s face and rebuild the foundations of it using a dermal substitute called Matriderm along with skin grafts from her back and buttocks. It was the first of its kind in the world to be done as a single stage operation.
The outstanding treatment and physiotherapy Katie received as an inpatient at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in the UK was extremely important for her road to recovery. However, once she was discharged she left a lot of support behind her, just when fighting the scars became most difficult.
Katie went to an intensive burn rehabilitation unit in France to undertake a long period of scar management techniques. This centre had a remarkable impact on her recovery, both mentally and physically. It was here, whilst interacting with other burns survivors, that she made the most progress in regaining control of her life.
She had to wear a plastic pressure mask for 23 hours a day for two years as part of her treatment. Her injuries also meant that she needed to be fed through a tube in her stomach as reforming scar tissue in her throat restricted her ability to eat and drink. The acid also left her blinded in one eye.
Prior to the attack, Katie was a model and budding TV presenter, with a hectic social life and a glowing future in the public eye. The attack ruined Katie from the inside out. Like many, she believed her life was over now that she was a ‘burns victim’.
Katie also began researching support for burns survivors and she was introduced to other effective non-surgical treatments such as laser, camouflage make-up, and medical tattooing. She has undergone extensive reconstructive surgery and she’s come a long way. Relying heavily on family and friends, and thanks to the outstanding treatment she received in France, alongside her own incredible determination, she no longer feels that her burns define her.
Just over a year after the attack, Katie made the decision to give up her anonymity and share her story in a remarkable film for the Cutting Edge strand on Channel 4 called ‘Katie: My Beautiful Face’. which was watched by over 3.5million viewers and nominated for Best Single Documentary at the BAFTA Television Awards in 2010.
In 2009 she went on to set up her own charity The Katie Piper Foundation. Simon Cowell supported Katie in her mission by becoming the patron and remains actively involved to date. The charity’s vision is a world where scars do not limit a person’s function, social inclusion or sense of well-being.
People were cruel. They judged me on my appearance, which made me feel like less of a person. I felt really bad so I hid away and cried. The first few times really knocked me back and I didn’t want to leave the house because I took it personally.
People are sometimes shocked, sometimes they’re inquisitive.
I would tell them that most of the time those people are not intentionally cruel, they’re uneducated and they’re seeing something they aren’t used to seeing because there isn’t enough awareness. Sometimes as hard as it is, you have to reach inside yourself and turn around and smile at those people. If they don’t smile back it doesn’t matter. There is no point in fighting unkindness with more unkindness. Try and make them see you are a person and you do have feelings.
For me, beauty used to be about the best figure and looking the prettiest when I walked into a room. Now I’ve realised that is only surface beauty. I feel more beautiful and confident by surrounding myself with people that believe in me and encourage me. That rubs off on you and so you begin to believe in yourself again. Now when I feel down, I tell myself I have loads going for me and I feel attractive.
Yes I still have bad days when I feel unconfident. When I do, I tell myself it’s normal because everyone has bad days!
Everybody’s skin and scars are different but everybody can be committed. I made sure I massaged as often as my therapist told me to.
I kept two diaries: a photographic one and a written one. The photographic diary helped me remember where I’d come from and how much progress I’d made. The written one was where I wrote about how I was feeling. Writing things down was cathartic. It really helped me to process my emotions and put things in perspective.
When I first found out I had to wear the pressure garments for two years, I was devastated because it sounded like an eternity. But I decided I wanted to do everything I could to heal my scars, so I wore them every single day for 24 hours a day, only removing them to massage. Believe it or not, I got use to them quite quickly and I actually found them really comfortable. They also made sleeping easier! Wearing the pressure garments really paid off, and I would definitely recommend sticking with them as long as you are prescribed to.
I made sure I only used non-perfumed products that were heavy in moisture, even to shower. That way my skin didn’t dry out or have any bad reactions. I also used scar gel 4 times a day after massaging along with silicone sheets under the pressure garments.
I used to be really into tanning but now I stay out of the sun as much as I can and I never sunbathe. Nothing is more important to me than staying healthy and looking after my skin, and we all know sunbathing is dangerous. Now I always wear factor 50 when I leave the house.
I wanted to keep the mask on as much as possible to get the best results so I was really strict and I didn’t wear any makeup until the very end of my mask wearing period, when parts of my face had stabilised. Even then it was only for special occasions.
When I stopped wearing the mask I experimented with nearly every different kind of camouflage and regular makeup brands. My skin and face is constantly changing so I change my makeup and face products a lot.
Yes. At first I was rubbish at doing my makeup and I found it really hard not to get disheartened when I messed it up. But it’s like anything; the more I practiced the better I got and I like to think I’m pretty good now.
When I lost a lot of my hair I wore hair pieces and pretty clips to help me feel more confident. When I couldn’t put any makeup or products on my face I would wear my favourite nail polish instead or put on a bright pair of shoes to lift my mood. Clothes became my way of expressing myself even more than before.
There were times when I hated parts of myself. I hated the scars and the loss of the control over how I looked. But I always tried to keep positive and work on the parts I could control, to accentuate my best bits. We all have parts of ourselves that we like more than others, whether it’s your hair, your great sense of humour or your long legs. I tried to look at what still I had and not what I had lost.
At first I felt angry and stupid and I hated seeing someone. But I had a lot of psychological help from a great burns psychologist called Lisa at my hospital. I saw her regularly and she was a really important part of my recovery. Talking really helped me: not just with coming to terms with my disfigurement but also with the rape and with other issues like feeling unable to leave the house.
I was very lucky with my family because I was able to talk to them a lot and sometimes shout at them! They stuck with me and we all helped each other. We used to watch a lot of DVD comedy box sets, it helped lift our spirits and things always felt better when we were laughing. Don’t get me wrong, there were days when I would sit and look at my old modelling book and cry, but I soon stopped that and realised I was a person who wanted to move forward, not mourn the loss of something that was never going to return. Watching TV was hard for me as I was unable to watch or hear anybody shouting without panicking and crying and absolutely couldn’t watch any sex or violent scenes, so I prefer to watch DVDs as what the content would be. I also read a lot of books, and when I did start to leave the house I started going to church – it’s a personal choice, but I found that having a faith really helped me.