On July 8, 2007, at her parent's farm outside Little Rock, Ark., Elaine Ferri was working with a horse named Forbidden Aly when every trainer's worst nightmare occurred. The young filly became frightened and kicked, shattering all of the bones in the central and left side of her face with one blow.
"I don't remember much about the actual incident," says Ferri. "I have a vague image of Aly running away from me. But I woke up in a hospital, thinking "This is not good-I'm in a hospital, and I can't see out of one eye,' I began to pray to God right then and there."
Ferri endured several surgeries over the next 12 days, as doctors attempted to reconstruct her face and save her eye (which failed). However, due to her lack of health insurance, Ferri was discharged from the hospital without having received the full spectrum of care that her condition warranted.
Enter internal medicine physician Angelo Chinnici, MD, director of medical services at the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, who knew Ferri from her days at Monmouth Park.
"Dr. Chinnici always told me that I could call him if I ever needed help with anything," she says. "I had strong faith in him."
Dr. Chinnici assembled a team of doctors-including ASPS Member Surgeon Stephen Chidyllo, MD-to care for Ferri on a pro bono basis, with the estimated cost of more than $150,000.
Ferri's course of treatment included creating a custom cranial implant to replace lost tissue, inserting a cheek implant, surgically elevating her left lower eyelid, and performing an upper blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery) on her right side to enhance symmetry.
When reflecting on Ferri's transformation, Dr. Chidyllo recalls one image: sunglasses.
"When I first met her in my office, she was so uncomfortable with her appearance that she wore dark sunglasses, and I actually had to ask her to take them off," he says. "As soon I finished examining her, she put them right back on. So, when she didn't put them back on after the surgery, I knew she was on her way to recovery.
"She returned one week later to have the stitches out-and she still didn't wear the sunglasses." Dr. Chidyllo says. "That simple thing gave me the most rewarding and gratifying feeling - knowing that her self esteem was building rapidly."
Ferri says her perception of the plastic surgeon has changed, as well.
"It is almost impossible to express what Dr. Chidyllo means to me," says Ferri. "When I first met him, he was just a man. Now, he has become a big, huggy bear with a heart of gold."
Since her surgery, Elaine has been able to see Forbidden Aly race (and win) on television, and she is anxious to return to training.
"I know I have a ways to go with my recovery, and I have to take it easy for a while, but Dr. Chidyllo has given me the chance to get back to doing what I truly love."