Louise Ashby, an English model and actress, came to Los Angeles with the age-old dream of becoming a star. But her dream — and her face — were shattered when she was in a disfiguring car accident.
Recently, she completed a miraculous regimen of surgeries in which 238 pieces of metal were implanted in her face at a cost of $1.5 million. With her new face intact, she is ready to plunge back into her movie career.
Hours of Surgery
On Oct. 5, 1992, Ashby was driving in her convertible with Charlotte Chatton, an old friend from London, after picking up Chinese food on Sunset Boulevard. "We had the top down, good friend in the car, music playing, ready for an evening of movies," recalls Ashby.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Ashby says, a car appeared heading toward her. "I swerved to avoid hitting him, but it was too late," she says. "He barreled straight into the front of us and I shot up out of the seat and into the corner of the windshield."
Clinging to life, she was brought to Cedar Sinai Medical Center. "I've seen some incredible traumas," says Dr. David Alessi, a surgeon who worked on Ashby, "but it's definitely one of the worst that I've ever seen."
Alessi was part of a team that performed almost 12 hours of emergency surgery on Ashby, who took four days to emerge from a coma.
"They thought I was either going to die or be a vegetable or be paralyzed," says Ashby.
Then, another 22 hours of surgery was performed. The operation was a success, but doctors were unable to restore sight to Ashby's left eye. Her sense of smell and taste were gone.
When she first saw her face, Ashby says, she exclaimed, "Oh my God, I'm a monster!"
Miracle of Modern Medicine
Still determined to live out her dream, Ashby turned to a highly regarded plastic surgeon, Dr. Henry Kawamoto.
"She was very, very depressed," Kawamoto recalls. "You could understand why. Her future, her face, everything had been taken away from her in just a brief instant."
To rebuild Ashby's face, Kawamoto located major bone fragments around her left eye and cheek and returned them to their original position. He used pieces of her skull to replace bone that could not be salvaged. Tiny plates and screws made of titanium held those pieces of bone together and in place.
Now, Ashby's face has been almost completely restored, held together by 238 separate pieces of metal. While the metal made her beautiful once again, it also makes her a noisy passenger when she walks through metal detectors at airports.
Ashby is now back before the cameras chasing her dream. She has also written a book, Magic of the Mask, about her nine-year ordeal.
The Beauty Within
Though she was horrified by her disfigured face, she says she learned something from it.
"When I looked in the mirror, one thing that did strike me that was strange was even though I didn't look the same, I felt the same," she says. "So it was then that I realized that it's what's on the inside that's important."
But, she says, "Hollywood doesn't accept the beauty within."
And, although Ashby says her ordeal taught her that she had inner beauty, she still did not want to live with her disfigured face.
"I didn't want to look in the mirror and see what I saw anymore," she says. "It is very difficult to put a mask on every single day. You feel like you're hiding something. I didn't want to hide anymore."