Six days after surgery Eight weeks after surgery
Imagine: throughout your whole life you have been told, "Oh, what a pretty face,"—and then, in a split-second, a bizarre accident puts that face, and your life, at risk.
This is not a set up for a Grey’s Anatomy script. It’s a chapter from Geraldine Rivero’s life story.
On November 14, 2007, during a party at a coworker’s house in Manhattan, Rivero slipped in the bathroom and attempted to steady herself with the coat hook on the back of the door. Somehow, one of the nine prongs on the stainless-steel rack pierced the orbital rim under her right eye and lodged in her sinus cavity.
"I don’t have much of a memory of the actual accident; I think I was in shock," says Rivero. "I didn’t feel as much pain as I was frightened."
Luckily for Rivero—a billing coordinator for an orthopedic surgeon—she was treated by an ASPS Member Surgeon.
"My first instinct was to yank [the coat hook] out," she recalls. Dr. Bryan Nestor, her boss, stopped her and held her head while dialing 911.
The responding firefighters were able to cut off the base of the hook so she could be transported to New York-Presbyterian Hospital, where ASPS Member Surgeon Henry Spinelli, MD was on call.
"I woke up in the ER—surrounded by my whole family and doctors—knowing something was attached to my face," says Rivero. "I was nearly frightened to death."
Rivero was in extreme pain and yelling but the hook still blocked her mouth, preventing the use of anesthesia. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Dr. Spinelli had to act quickly.
Spinelli said, "Just let me get this thing off your face and I promise you it will be okay from there."
"I truly felt his competency at that moment," recalls Rivero. "I was completely comfortable in his hands."
While Rivero was still awake, Dr. Spinelli used a Midas Rex with diamond saw—as a nurse dripped water on the hook to keep the searing temperature down—to remove the portion covering her airway.
Once Rivero was under anesthesia, Spinelli realized that he could not remove the object, which had splayed some of Rivero’s eye muscles, in reverse. So he devised a plan—using a variety of surgical techniques, and a second cut with the Midas Rex—to negotiate the turn he knew the hook would have to make to remove it through Rivero’s sinus cavity.
Amazingly, the next day after the object was removed and Dr. Spinelli reconstructed her eye and cheek, she was able to see not only light, but an eye chart.
"I can attest to Dr. Spinelli’s genius," says Rivero. "I’ve worked with surgeons for almost 30 years, and I can honestly say that his skill is the reason for my quick recovery."
Two days after the incident Rivero was home, and she returned to work less than two weeks after the accident. She is able to function normally at work and can drive a car, experiencing only a slight effect on her peripheral vision.
"I’m surrounded by doctors all day long," says Rivero. "They are amazed and want to touch my face. They can’t believe what he did!"
"Geri is remarkable," says Spinelli, referring to Rivero. "She was the calming force throughout everything. She is one of the bravest people I have ever met—I couldn’t have dealt with it the way she did."
"I was always told I had a pretty face, but when faced with disfigurement," Rivero pauses, then starts again. "That he was able to reconstruct me, oh! I pray that he should remain safe so that he can help others who need him."