Robbed of Sight, Teen Took Hold of Her Future

PHOTO Chrissy Steltz feeds her son a bottle. Years after a shotgun accident, Steltz fell in love.

In her dreams, Chrissy Steltz imagines a world that she can no longer see.

"When I go to bed every night ... my dreams are fully sighted. I still see the sky. I still see … you know, the ocean..."

She sees her 8-month-old son, Geoffrey.

"I see his chubby cheeks and his gorgeous eyes and his perfect little lips," said Steltz.

And she can even see herself -- without the sleeping mask she now wears to cover her injuries.

"The oddest of dreams is I'll pull off my sleep-shade and I'll look just like I did when I was 16," she said. "And I'll throw the sleep-shade on the ground and walk off."

It's been 11 years since a shotgun blast robbed Steltz, now 27, of her sight, and, extraordinarily, most of her face.

"The only sense -- to my knowledge -- that I have that wasn't affected at all is my sense of touch," said Steltz. "I have no smell. I have no sight. And I have a little taste." She sometimes has difficulty hearing.

In 1999, Steltz was a popular high-school sophomore hanging out with friends at her apartment in Portland, Ore.

"It's spring break," Steltz recounted. "We're all, you know, doing what teenagers shouldn't be, you know, drinking. And I went into the back room and offered them orange juice, and I saw one of my friends with the shotgun.

"My words were, 'Put that down before you kill somebody.'

"And he told me, 'It's not loaded.' Yep. And from that moment is when my life changed."

Blind Love: 'An Injury Nobody Survives'

Steltz was shot, accidently, at point-blank range, a mere five feet from the teenage boy who was fooling around with a 12-gauge shotgun.

Her boyfriend at the time, Will O'Brien, arrived minutes after the shooting.

"I don't know if you have ever seen like a wounded animal trying to get up?" O'Brien said. "That's what I saw. I saw an injury that nobody survives, except somebody really strong. And she was trying to get up."

Steltz was rushed to the hospital, where surgeons desperately fought to save her life but quickly realized they could not save her face.

"The blast itself removed the contents of her left eye socket, removed her nose and the supporting mid-facial structures and damaged her right eye to the extent that she lost vision," said Dr. Eric Dierks, a surgeon who has operated on Steltz many times.

"I've not seen anything quite so severe where the patient lived."

Blind Love: 'I Thought I'd Fallen Asleep'

Steltz endured more than a dozen surgeries to rebuild her ravaged face.

"Every day was a struggle, every day," said O'Brien. "We didn't know whether she was going to live the day."

For six weeks, Steltz's friends and family waited anxiously as she lay in a drug-induced coma.

"They were telling me before she woke up that they didn't know the extent of the brain damage," said O'Brien. "She could wake up a vegetable. There is just no telling until she comes out."

Steltz remembers regaining consciousness.

"The first thing I remember is waking up in a hospital and asking if we were there yet," she said. "In my mind, mentally, I was on a trip to the beach with my family. I thought I'd fallen asleep in the back seat of the car."

Her boyfriend broke the news to her.

"His comment to me was, 'Do you know where you are? Do you see anything?'" said Steltz. "And that's when I realized, 'No. I don't see anything. Why don't I see anything?'"

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