Teacher called a 'zombie' after her face became paralysed, smiles again… thanks to op using a muscle from her leg
Vicki, 26, was misdiagnosed with Bells Palsy when she was 16MRI scan revealed she had a facial tumour eight years laterLast July she had an operation to remove
the growthNow she's had corrective surgery using muscle from her leg and gold weights were placed in her eyelids to help her blink

Claire Bates


12:09 GMT, 25 January 2013



15:51 GMT, 25 January 2013

A teacher who was taunted for looking like 'a zombie from Shaun of the Dead' because of a rare condition has had an operation to let her smile for the first time in ten years.

Vicki Hand, 26, was tormented by ignorant strangers after she developed a tumour which pressed down on her facial nerves causing her features to distort into a fixed grimace.

Doctors initially diagnosed her with Bells Palsy at the age of 16 when she was unable to move the left side of her face which meant she could not close her mouth.

Vicki Hand

Vicki Hand

Before and after: Vicki has struggled with a paralysed face for 10 years, but a correct diagnosis and surgery have helped to balance her features

But eight years later an MRI scan revealed she actually had a benign tumour in her face which was causing the nerves to spasm – a condition known as Facial Palsy.

The condition, which affects around 100,000 people in the UK, also caused Vicki's eyes to be permanently blood-shot.

Last July she had an operation to remove the growth and has now successfully undergone an operation – including grafting muscle from her leg into her face – to correct her features.

Surgeons also operated on her eyes to make them symmetrical and placed gold weights in her eyelids to help her blink.

Today Vicki, a primary school teacher from Worcester, was able to smile for the first time in a decade.

She said: 'I went back for the results on my own and it was dreadful.

'The doctor showed me the MRI scan and pointed out my facial nerve with something pushing against it. “That's a tumour”, he said. I really didn't contemplate anything like that – I couldn't believe it.

'It was disgraceful that no one picked up on it given the number of specialists I'd seen, including physiotherapists.

'My eye was affected the most and caused big problems, as it would be red and bloodshot, and sore.

'After I had the tumour removed the facial palsy was slightly worse for a while.

'I had a muscle taken out of my leg and implanted in my face.

'It would have been good to talk to someone before my operation, as it's not something anyone else I know has had done.

'But now I can smile again – it's amazing.

Plastic surgeon Charles Nduka from the charity Facial Palsy UK, said: 'Patients face delayed diagnosis and a lack of awareness of suitable treatment'

Plastic surgeon Charles Nduka from the charity Facial Palsy UK, said: 'Patients face delayed diagnosis and a lack of awareness of suitable treatment'

'People don't know about facial palsy and they need to be more aware. I was in a chip shop after a night out and a lad said 'What's the matter with you

'You look like one of the zombies from Shaun of the Dead, your eye's so red and veiny.

'I told him I'd had a brain tumour and he said, “Haven't we all” People can be idiots.

'I'd much rather people just ask me about it politely.

'Now, as a teacher, the kids in my class have never really said anything about it, but sometimes when I'm walking down the corridor and I smile at the little kids, they'll ask “What's happened to your face”

'I'm lucky that I got it at 16 rather than 13. I was just starting sixth form and I did a presentation on it for everyone and explained what it is, and that made a big difference.'

Vicki has a reduced field of vision in her left eye which sometimes causes her pain but she is expected to make a full recovery.

Since her operation she has vowed to raise awareness of facial palsy and has organised a fundraising gig in aid of Facial Palsy UK.

Charles Nduka, from the charity, said there are still misunderstandings about the condition.

He said: 'Patients face delayed diagnosis, a lack of awareness of suitable treatments among some health professionals, and a poor appreciation of the implications of losing the ability to smile and the use of one side of the face.

'Facial palsy is not a 'cosmetic' but a functional problem affecting important activities such as eating, drinking and protecting the eye.'