Woman, 28, who suffered a stroke during brain tumour surgery becomes the first person in the UK to have facial reanimation surgery to help restore movement to her face

  • Sammy Taylor, 28, from Bromsgrove had surgery for a brain tumour aged 25
  • Woke up with half of her face paralysed after suffering a stroke
  • Has first facial reanimation surgery in UK at Queen Victoria Hospital 
  • Can now feed herself, run and paddleboard after relearning to walk 

A woman has become the first facial reanimation surgery patient after waking up with terrifying face paralysis following brain tumour surgery.

Sammy Taylor, who is now 28, from Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, was 25 when she woke up with half of her face frozen following brain tumour removal surgery.

The writer and entrepreneur, now ‘has her life back after becoming the UK’s first facial reanimation surgery patient.

Sammy Taylor, who is now 28, from Bromsgrove, Worcestershire (pictured on holiday), has made an incredible recovery after suffering a stroke during brain surgery. Having learned to walk again, she  has her own business and has completed a 10K run

Sammy, looking pretty in pink before her facial paralysis. She knew at 14-years-old she had a tumour but was told it ‘wasn’t a nasty one’  

Sammy after facial reanimation surgery at  Queen Victoria Hospital, West Sussex, in 2020

Freelance mental health writer Sammy from Bromsgrove, Worcestershire endured brain surgery in 2019 to remove a pilocytic astrocytoma, a primary central nervous system (CNS) tumour.

The writer first realized there was a problem aged 14, when she suffered loss of balance and spinning vision.

These symptoms turned out to be a brain tumour affecting her nervous system. 

Her tumour was not diagnosed until 2013 and she had surgery to remove it at Charing Cross Hospital, Hammersmith, London in 2019.

When Sammy awoke from her surgery, she received the shocking news she had suffered a stroke that left her with facial paralysis down the right side of her face, balance issues and oscillopsia, the sensation that the world is always moving.

Sammy, at 25, had to relearn how to walk again and was using a wheelchair.

She also had to re-learn her craft because she couldn’t write or even feed herself. 

Sammy being spoon fed in hospital by a friend. After suffering a stroke she was left helpless and could barely do anything for herself 

Sammy out for afternoon tea at Sketch in London with the same friend who had to spoon feed her when she was in hospital and unable to do anything for herself

There was a two per cent risk of stroke on the consent form she signed but it was so small with her type of surgery that no one really understood why it happened, unluckily for Sammy, she was within the two per cent bracket.

In 2020, she required corrective eye surgery for her double vision, followed by the first facial reanimation surgery in the UK, at Queen Victoria Hospital, West Sussex, and only the third to be performed in the world in order to get her expression back.

Sammy is now doing much better, she can feed herself again, walk unassisted and even run and paddleboard. 

Sammy after one of her surgeries helping to reanimate her face. The procedure has only been carried out three times worldwide 

Stacking bracelets made by Sammy can be bought at beautybrain.uk with 10 per cent of the profits going to charity

She has also created a booming jewellery, clothing and cards business that was inspired by her tumor journey and 10 per cent of her profits go straight to Brainstrust UK.

The businesswoman admits she ‘had been feeling the effects of her brain tumour for many years before she was finally diagnosed’.

As a child, she experienced monthly head rushes at night waking up to spinning walls, sweating and gripping the edges of the bed feeling like she was about to fall.

She received ENT tests and epley maneuvers, but nothing helped.

She explained how it took until 2013 for her to finally get answers.

She said’My doctor sent me for an MRI scan to ‘rule anything bad out.

Sammy with family in the hospital before her initial tumour removal surgery where there was only a two per cent chance of having a stroke

Sammy pictured as a child. She would experience monthly head rushes at night waking up to spinning walls, sweating and gripping the edges of the bed feeling like she was about to fall. But it wasn’t until she was a teenager that the cause was discovered

‘It was there that a brain tumour was discovered and I was put on a watch and wait until 2018 with a view to being discharged after 5 years of stable scans.’

Living with her brain tumour had been the normal for Sammy for five years.

‘I honestly think that because the doctors told me in 2013, that it wasn’t a ‘nasty’ brain tumour; that it was found by chance and would likely never change, I never really worried.

‘Those monthly vertigo episodes of extreme dizziness were sometimes petrifying and made me fearful of sleeping, but I knew they weren’t constants and would soon pass.

‘I think it’s only now, after everything that has happened in the last three years with the brain surgery, a stroke and facial paralysis, and given that I’m much more informed about brain tumours in general, that I can’t believe I actually managed to live a relatively normal, unfazed life with this ticking time bomb in my head for so long.’

Sammy did her research before undertaking the massive surgery.

She said’I saw four different surgeons before having the surgery and they all said the same; that I needed the surgery now as the tumour was close to blocking the CSF controlling everything we do.

Sammy had bad paralysis down the right hand side of her face and is pictured out and about with a friend

Waking up to a shock: ‘The surgery was a blur, I fully trusted the surgeon and the outcome’

The surgery incision along the back of Sammy’s leg

‘The surgery itself was a blur. I was calm and happy on the morning and I think a lot of that was just peace that the day was finally here after months of preparing for and worrying about the surgery. I fully trusted my surgeon and the outcome.’

The writer could not have anticipated the new reality she would wake up to.

She said’I remember waking from surgery unable to see anything. My eyes were moving so much with the nystagmus, I couldn’t focus my vision and I started to panic.

‘It was when I went to tell the nurses that something was wrong that I realized something had happened to my face too.

‘My mouth felt frozen and I couldn’t pronounce anything clearly to voice my concern.

Probably one of Sammy’s last proper smiles before her stroke.

Sammy after surgery having to be spoon fed by her mother following her unexpected stroke

‘I was so weak after that I almost gave up trying initially. They wheeled me to the ICU and I tried to sleep the symptoms off in a bit of a blur but everyday, when I’d wake, it was the same.

‘It was only by day five that the confused surgeons suspected I’d had a cerebellar stroke and my recovery length wasn’t something they could predict.’

It has been a long journey of healing for Sammy since then and she has fought to get her life back.

Sammy before surgery getting ready for a holiday, looking trim and toned in a black bikini

She describes watching her friends ‘buy their first homes’ or get married while she was living back home with her mother, learning to to basic things like walk and eat. 

‘Recovery was the most challenging part given that all of my best friends were buying their first homes or getting engaged and I was back living with my mother, learning to walk again and having daily physiotherapy.

‘I was like a child again – being fed and clothed in the early stages when I couldn’t stand or use my arm to do those things. And my progress was also painfully slow.

‘It’s only when time had passed that I realized that the one per cent of small daily progress was adding up. I could do far more than previously in my recovery and started enjoying my life again, appreciating what I could still do.

Having to start from scratch: After moving back in with her mum, Sammy had to learn how to walk, eat and write pictured above is some of her writing practice

Sammy said she ‘watched friends buy houses and get married’ while she had to be taught everything again ‘like a child’ but her fighting spirit has caused her to thrive again and she now has a healthy acceptance of life and her body image which is inspiring

‘I got out of the comparison trap of seeing and envying what others my age were doing on social media, and began focusing on my own path realizing that everyone goes at their own pace in life.

‘I kept reminding myself that I wasn’t behind in my life, I was simply living a new path and going at my own speed.

‘Physically I am now stronger and fitter than ever. I’ve just entered my first 10k run (which would have been a challenge for me before) but even more so after needing to learn to walk again.

‘I still struggle with my balance but I’m continually pushing myself by trying out paddleboarding, riding a bike and yoga classes.

‘I continue to live with facial paralysis and it has definitely come with a set of battles I wouldn’t have imagined.

‘Mostly, I’ve had to learn the hard way just how much emphasis is placed on looking a certain way or fitting a beauty standard in our society, especially in the age of Instagram.’

Sammy training for a 10K run later in the year, has re-gained her vigor for life after realizing that everyone’s journey ‘moves at it’s own pace’

What is facial reanimation surgery? 

The ENT (Ear,Nose and Throat) procedure is known as ‘smile surgery’ and can be used on people who suffer from Bell’s palsy and partial facial collapse to regain muscle movement in their face. 

The process can involve nerve grafts from other parts of the body or cartilage grafts to support muscles.

The nerve graft is the first stage of the process and once the nerve endings have grown, a muscle transfer can be carried out.

Small tubes can also be added to the face to help nerve regrowth.

In addition, patients may have other surgeries such as dynamic lower lip tightening and eyelid procedures. 

The purpose of surgery can be to achieve symmetry when the face is resting, or to create movement. 

However, it can’t completely restore the face to what it looked like before experiencing facial palsy. 

Source: facialpalsy.org.uk

The most unlikely source provided relief in some way for Sammy, was the coronavirus pandemic.

She described how having to wear a face mask was a ‘godsend’ in the early days of her recovery as it gave her a place to hide. 

The 28 year old said: ‘Enforced mask wearing, as a result of the pandemic, was actually a godsend to hide behind in the early days. 

‘But this also came with a different set of issues as my forehead doesn’t move and eyes are mostly expressionless, so I hated looking serious all the time and never seeming to smile at strangers.

‘There’s also a mix of functionality issues I wasn’t expecting, such as my lack of ability to pronounce certain words without appearing like I’m slurring, needing to use a small spoon to eat and wearing sunglasses to protect my eye from watering most of the time.

‘Also, because my eye doesn’t fully close or blink, this can cause excruciating dry eye and inflammatory pain.

‘Acceptance is key but I’ve realized it is something we’ll find effortless some days and a terrible struggle others. And that’s ok.

‘I think we’re all guilty of looking back at photos of ourselves with a sense of nostalgia, longing for the same skin, same hair, same body or same something.

‘We shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves for this and should focus more on the things we love about ourselves than the things we don’t.

‘I’ve also become much more accepting of the fact everything on the outsides changes anyway.

‘I’m more focused on the person I’ve grown to be on the inside and the exciting new opportunities I’m faced with, as a result of this challenge.’

While preparing for brain surgery in 2019 Sammy decided to start her own business, Beauty in the Brain, creating meaningful products based on her brain tumor journey.

Sammy enjoying time with friends and family with a beaming smile and a tee that reads ‘lucky’

She said ‘Knowing that most of our anxieties stem from the habitual feelings of worry and the irrational anticipation we have for threats and dangers, I knew I needed to switch my mindset and focus on the good things around me

‘Because of this, I inscribed my favorite mantra – ‘something good is about to happen’ – onto a beautiful bangle to offer a little boost whenever I needed it and a constant, subtle reminder that everything would be okay because better days were on the way.

‘But wearing my bangle daily throughout 2019, and realizing how powerful it had been for me, sparked the idea to turn it into something that could continue to help and inspire others on their own journeys.

‘BITB has honestly been the best focus. Every single aspect of it has aided my recovery in some way.

‘Since founding BITB, it’s grown to even more inspirational quote bangles and bracelets, meaningful necklaces, positive stationery and now clothing; each piece inspired by an element of my journey.’

You can follow along with Sammy’s journey on her blog beautybrainuk.com 

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