The two autobiographical books “Beautiful” and “Beautiful ever after” are memoirs by Katie Piper. At 24 Katie was a beautiful English woman who was starting her modelling and television career. But when Katie decided to end her relationship with boyfriend Danny Lynch she became a victim of horrific violence. Danny held her captive at his home where he raped her and a short time later he organised for his friend Stefan Sylvestre to throw acid in her face.
The books portray how hard it is for Katie to face herself in the mirror after she is left with permanent injuries, and her physical and mental journey to recovery. It also deals with the harrowing court cases to bring her perpetrators to justice.
“Beautiful” captures how image conscious Katie was before the attack. Everything had to be perfect from her weight, make up, clothes and hair extensions. People around Katie also loved her for her appearance and she never had any shortage of male admirers.
Reading what happened to Katie and the list of all her injuries after the attack was difficult because of the vivid descriptions. Katie suffered third degree burns during the attack, and writes how she could feel her body burning and her face melting like wax. Despite being put on high levels of morphine her pain was excruciating. The medical team who treated Katie’s burns said she was one of the worst cases they had ever seen. Her face swelled to the size of a football, she lost sight in one eye and lost most of her nose, eyelids and half of her left ear. Some of the acid that she swallowed also made it hard for her to breathe freely and digest food.
She describes how her family and councillor delicately and slowly revealed her injuries. Her councillor, for instance, slowly worked her way up her body with a hand mirror so she could see her face last. Her parents took down any photos of her before the attack as well as all mirrors in the house when she came back to live with them. On the whole they all tried to protect her and to reassure her she would be okay.
Court and surgery
Katie goes through an enormous ordeal defending her case against Danny Lynch and Stefan Sylvestre. In the first trial they are only convicted of grievous bodily harm with intent, which leaves Katie angry. However, on appeal her attackers are given life sentences.
Katie goes through at least 60 operations to rebuild her face. Her operations involve many things from jawline correction to skin transplants using skin from a corpse. She also has many skin grafts that involve the removal of skin from behind her ear and inside her mouth that are grafted onto her eyelids. Hearing about all these fiddly procedures made me queasy. I could almost feel myself underneath the pressure of Katie’s compression mask that had be worn for at least 23 hours a day for two years to smooth out all the joins and folds in her skin.
I learned a lot about what can be done to help burn victims from these two books, and especially about the pioneering work being done using stem cells. I also loved how Katie finally found meaning in her life, particularly in the media where she has done countless interviews for television and magazines. There were parts of her media experience that did feel overblown and her bragging about the celebrities she met was particularly annoying. But overall the loving support of Katie’s family, friends, doctor and medical team makes her story a special one.