British model Katie Piper's dreams were derailed when a complete stranger threw sulfuric acid in her face on a London street in March 2008.
The vicious attack left Piper horribly disfigured and sent the 24-year-old into a whirlwind of reconstructive surgeries. Acid melted all of the skin on her face, neck and hands and when she arrived at the hospital, she was missing an ear, parts of her nose and was blind in one eye.
Her parents, David and Diane Piper, had difficulty recognizing their beloved daughter. "When they said, 'Is this your daughter?' I remember thinking, 'I don't know,'" David said.
Doctors at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital rushed to determine the next steps of treatment.
"We had to stabilize all different areas. And then...my first reaction was, 'What the hell are we gonna do with this girl,'" said Dr. Mohammad Jawad, who specializes in reconstructive surgery on burn victims, and spearheaded Piper's treatment. "Medically speaking, I had no idea."
Complicating her condition, Piper had swallowed some of the acid during the attack -- badly damaging her esophagus and stomach. To manage the pain, she spent days going in and out of a medically induced coma. At one point, she woke up delirious and hysterical.
"We got called in the middle of the night when she became uncontrollable, and they literally couldn't hold her down while they injected her to sedate her," her father said. "And she looked at me, she thought I was attacking her... That was very hard."
Her parents said this was one of the many low moments in the hospital. "I remember thinking, 'Do I really want her to survive? She's so disfigured, she could be totally blind...What sort of life is she gonna have,'" David said. "And I do, I do feel guilty, even now, about that."
The damage to Piper's face was so severe that Jawad and her team of doctors decided on a revolutionary new type of treatment. They mixed thin strips of a synthetic skin substitute called Matriderm with tiny squares of real skin stripped from Piper's back. The combination was then layered onto Piper's face, which slowly began to take shape.
At first, in the hospital, Piper was unable to speak and was forced to communicate by writing on a board.
"She was writing these notes, I was reading them out loud just to make sure I got it right. And then when she wrote 'Kill me,' I couldn't read that back to her," Diane said. "I didn't know what to do. Luckily, there was a nurse with her and she took over. And I, I just left the room and I couldn't cope with that."
After seven weeks in the burn unit and a stint in intensive care, Piper was released from the hospital -- but many hurdles remained.
At home, she was forced to wear a plastic mask 23 hours a day to help her wounds heal. Her mother quit her job to focus on Piper's care.