Jaycee Dugard and Other Amazing Survivors of the Past Year

Survivors of 2009ABC News Photo Illustration
Survivors of 2009

The past year has had its heros, its villains, its classless celebs, as well as enough drama, violence and mystery to wow a reality show producer.

But it has also had a unique class of amazing survivors, people who have been victimized by unimaginable horrors that left them mutilated, defiled, or abused beyond what many people believe is endurable.

What makes these people remarkable isn't the fact that they were among the unfortunate of the past 12 months, but that they have endured and done it with remarkable toughness, grace and optimism.

The news in the year 2010 will bring a whole new cast of villains and heros. And unfortunately there will also be victims, people who are caught in the crossfire of cops and crooks, who are the collateral damage of peoples' greed, fury or jealousy.

Life After CaptivityPlay

The future victims -- and those who have suffered much more minor setbacks -- have amazingly resilient role models to look up to in these six people:


After 18 years in captivity, Jaycee Dugard will celebrate the new year as a free woman for the first time in her adult life. The discovery in August that Dugard, kidnapped at age 11, was alive when so many had given up hope shocked her family and the California community where she was kept hidden.

Dugard and her two daughters fathered by alleged kidnapper Phillip Garrido have been living in seclusion with her mother, Terry Probyn, in northern California since Garrido's ruse was uncovered with the help of police and parole agents.

Jaycee Dugard

A spokeswoman for Dugard and her family told ABCNews.com recently that she was very excited about spending the first Christmas and New Years in nearly two decades with her family, but that details of the celebration would be kept private.

Now 29, Dugard spends her days riding her beloved horses and bonding with the family she left behind, including her 19-year-old half-sister who was just an infant when Dugard was abducted near her school bus stop.

Her daughters have reportedly tested at their appropriate grade level, a testament, her family has said, to Dugard's intelligence despite having only a sixth grade education herself.

Lawyers for Dugard have said she intends to testify at the trials of Garrido, a registered sex offender, and his wife, Nancy Garrido. The two are accused of hiding Dugard and her daughters, now 11 and 15, in a backyard lair of sheds and tents that were wired for electricity and computers.


The 911 call, when it came in February, seemed too bizarre to be real. A 200 pound pet chimpanzee was going berserk and attacking a woman in Stamford, Conn. The chimp's owner, Sandra Herold, screamed into the phone "he's ripping her apart" as the chimp named Travis could be heard shrieking in the background.

Charla Nash, 56, survived the assault, but her injuries were severe and life altering. Travis bit off both of Nash's hands and mauled her face. Nash lost her eyelids, nose and lips in the attack and a large portion of her scalp is also gone.

For months, Nash was fed via a syringe inserted in an opening where her mouth used to be. Doctors have also had to remove her eyes because of the fear of infection. Nash was transferred to the Cleveland Clinic right after the assault and remains there 11 months later.

But recently Nash sat down with Oprah Winfrey and gave a tutorial on fortitude and forgiveness.

Although she usually wears a veil so she won't "scare people." Nash agreed to show her face to the television cameras for the first time.

During the interview she said, "People are going to say what they're going to say…I need to move forward and get better and stronger."

Charla Nash

Nash refused to dwell on what had happened to her.

"I don't think about it [the attack]. There's no time for that because I need to heal, you know, not look backwards," she told Winfrey.

Moving forward in Nash's case may include more hurdles, like winning approval for a face transplant.

"I'm not a candidate for a hands transplant because I have no eyesight," she said. "I hope somewhere along the way to get a face transplant and get a hand transplant at the same time."

She is not deterred by the odds.

"I've always known that I've been strong…if I couldn't do anything I just took my time, took a breath and tried it again," Nash said.

That resolve has been tested many times over the past year, but Nash still seems undaunted in part, because her family – brothers Stephen and Michael and daughter Briana -- remain at her side.

Nash summed up her situation simply on Oprah: "I just look different. Things happen in life you can't change."


In October, after a brutal attack 15-year-old Michael Brewer lay in a hospital heavily sedated, with burns covering 65 percent of his swollen body. Doctors at Jackson Memorial Ryder Hospital in Florida discussed the likelihood of multiple organ failure and the prospect of numerous operations to replace the burned skin.

Just two months later, Brewer has been discharged from the hospital's burn unit and is home with his family.

During a press conference, Brewer's mother Valerie praised her son's grit. "I'm just ecstatic… his strength, his determination, his will to survive…he's just incredible," she said.

Brewer's story made national headlines because his alleged attackers were also all teens including at least one alleged assailant who was just 13.

The attack also stirred outrage because of its viciousness. At the time law enforcement officials called it "one of the most heinous crimes" they had ever seen and it all may have all started over a video game.

Michael Brewer

Prosecutors allege that five young suspects cornered Brewer near a pool. One teen allegedly splashed the boy with rubbing alcohol and another set him on fire while the rest watched. The teens were apparently angered because Brewer failed to pay for a $40 video game.

Brewer spent his first night at home with family watching a movie and eating pizza. Although the middle-schooler has now left the hospital, his ordeal is far from over. According to his doctors, Brewer must still undergo physical therapy five days a week and even simple tasks like raising his arms above his head are painful.

After watching her son undergo a grueling regimen of treatments – including three skin grafts over the past two months Brewer's mother, Valerie, said, "I'm so proud of him. He is my hero, he really is."

Brewer added that despite his injuries her son is looking forward to moving on with his life. His alleged assailants won't be able to say the same. Three of the teens have been charged as adults. The charges of attempted second-degree murder could carry a sentence of up to 30 years.


For Kimberly Robinson, 2009 looked to be a horrendous year. Robinson's husband left the family during her pregnancy, and she has been struggling financially and emotionally ever since. Then she was told that the boy growing inside her had a tumor on his face that would likely grow and choke his windpipe.

Her doctor suggested she terminate the pregnancy. "I said 'What are my other options?' and they just looked at me," said Robinson.

Jordan Jamal Smith

But in March Robinson, 35, gave birth to a baby boy, and for that she will be forever grateful.

"He is not a little miracle. He is my biggest miracle," Robinson to ABCNews.com.

Jordan Jamal Smith is now a nine-month old bundle of energy who wasn't supposed to survive never mind crawl around a living room at lightning speed.

Neonatal specialists told Robinson, that as far as they knew fewer than 100 babies had been born with cranial masses this large, all of them died. When she went into labor, a team of 25 doctors stood in the hospital room at Jackson Memorial Holtz Children's Hospital in Miami, Fla.

Robinson was told not to look at the baby because doctors feared her reaction. Robinson's sister glanced at the baby and was shocked. "She told my mom, how can we tell Kim she had a monster…the baby has no face."

Most of Jamal's face was covered with a large, two-pound purple tumor protruding from his mouth making him almost unrecognizable. None of that mattered to Robinson.

"I went to see him the next day. I didn't care what they said. I talked to him and he recognized my voice immediately. He grabbed my finger and held it."

Doctors waited a few days for Jordan to stabilize before wheeling him in to surgery for the delicate operation to try to remove the tumor. Robinson said she was strangely calm. "I just knew it would be all right. He had fought so hard and the doctors said he wouldn't make it through birth but he did. So I just knew he would be okay."

Today Jordan has chubby cheeks and wide toothless smile and seems to be developing normally. "My husband didn't come back and it has been rough, but if God never does anything for me again he has done enough just saving my son's life."


It was a crime that shocked Lt. Mark Gagan and the rest of the Richmond, Calif., police force. As many as 20 teens and men hanging around the high school for the homecoming dance raped a 16-year-old girl whose strict religious family had allowed her to attend the dance. Those who didn't rape the girl watched and some even took pictures on their cells phones.

The Oct. 24 assault began around 9:30 p.m. in a dark area of the Richmond High School campus and lasted until almost midnight.

"The sheer length of the abuse, the number of people who were present…this crime illustrated some of the worst behavior human beings are capable of," said Gagan.

Six men between the ages of 15 and 21 have been charged with rape and other sex-related crimes. Gagan added that the case is still under investigation.

Homecoming Gang Rape Victim

Just as the criminal case is ongoing, so is the healing process for the victim. Gagan said the girl, who has remained unidentified because of the nature of the crime, has largely recovered from her physical wounds but she may never get over her emotional ones.

"The emotional recovery takes much more time …this kind of violence changes someone's life," said Gagan.

The victim has a large, deeply religious family and they have been able to lean on their church and their pastor for support, the lieutenant said.

In November, the family released a statement that tried to ease the anger at those who were involved in the attack.

"Violence is always a wrong choice," the family's statement said in part. "We realize people are angry about this, but let the anger cause change; change that is necessary to keep our children, our neighbors and our friends safe. We thank everyone for their love, support and ongoing prayers."

While the attack revealed the dark side of humanity, it also unleashed peoples' tender side.

"Right behind the callousness and disregard for humankind that this crime shows, right behind that is the generosity of the human spirit…We have been literally inundated with support for her," said Gagan.

The police department received tens of thousands of packages and letters for the girl. A confidential party has offered to pay for her college education, and numerous people have come forward to make sure she will receive free therapy and counseling. The victim's church, First Presbyterian in Richmond has set up a fund called "Victory over Violence" to handle all of the offers.


The woman who received the first face transplant surgery in the United States revealed herself earlier this year as Connie Culp. Culp received a new face in December 2008, but didn't step out of the shadows of anonymity until May.

The road to recovery has been a long one for the 46-year-old mother from Ohio. It's been almost five years since her husband took a shotgun, aimed it at her face and pulled the trigger, blasting a hole in Culp's nose, cheeks and the roof of her mouth.

She barely survived the attack and then for years afterward Culp endured strangers gaping at her disfigurement. Culp told her doctors that one little girl even referred to her as a monster.

But a year ago, at the Cleveland Clinic, Culp became the recipient of the nation's first face transplant, undergoing a 22-hour operation where a team of doctors replaced 80 percent of her face. This year Culp is spending the holidays at home with her family.

Connie Culp

"She is doing fine. She had a great Christmas," said Dr. Maria Siemionow, the lead transplant surgeon. "She is leading a regular life, walking a dog, doing some grocery shopping, and visiting with friends."

These kinds of simple tasks would have been unthinkable for Culp just months ago. "She now has the return of sensation over her entire face…the function of smiling and frowning this is also improving, so we are pretty pleased," said Siemionow.

Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic have no doubt that Culp's determination has had a hand in the success of her treatment.

"She is a very strong and motivated candidate and we are learning for the future that will be important," said Siemionow.

Sometime in the first few months of next year, Culp will return for more surgery at the Cleveland Clinic to remove some of the excess skin from her face. And she will continue the daily exercises that are helping restore function to her facial muscles.

According to Siemionow, Culp has also already made a New Year's Resolution of sorts. "With the coming year, her mission is to go public more and talk about how important this surgery is for her and how it may also change the lives of others," the doctor said.