Celebrating the springboard donation to Changing Faces

Greville and Lisa Mitchell

Greville and Lisa Mitchell

Twenty-five years ago this week, on Friday 25th October 1991, I received the very first donation to Changing Faces – and it was a full nine months before the charity was officially ‘launched’ and was therefore of even more significance.

So I was delighted last week to be invited to have coffee with Greville and Lisa Mitchell in their lovely house overlooking Perelle Bay in Guernsey – and to thank them yet again for their immense generosity. Their donation was the trigger, it gave me the confidence – and they didn’t stop there either!

Greville Mitchell is a very well-respected local philanthropist in Guernsey – he’d put up the initial funding for the island’s hospice. I didn’t know him but managed to get an introduction and met him one afternoon in early October 1991.

I explained what I was thinking of doing – creating a charity to fill the void in psycho-social, confidence-building care for people with disfigurements from any cause, to advocate that such care should be a routine of health care after burns, cleft lip and palate, facial cancer or paralysis or skin conditions, and to challenge the prevailing and pervasively negative public attitudes around disfigurement.

A big agenda, I admitted, but it need to be tackled. I asked him if he would advise me on whether he thought it a viable and worthwhile idea. He agreed to review my ‘business plan’ (I shuddered at its paucity) and said he would get back to me.

A few days later, I had just been out spreading slurry on a local field fully-clad in protective oil skins and stopped at the end of our farm track to rescue the post from the mail box. I climbed back into the tractor cab and opened one of the letters, the writing of which I didn’t recognise. It was from Greville: “thank you for your book and your plan… I think it is a very good and exciting idea and needs doing… and here’s £5,000 to get it going… and I’ll go on supporting you if you do get it up and running.”

And so the Andrew Mitchell Christian Charitable Trust became our very first donor – and Greville has been good to his word like the great Christian gentlemen he is. He has given 25 gifts to a total value of £146,000.

But that very first donation was the most important. From a complete outsider, he recognised the need I was talking about and was prepared to put money behind it. That is how charities like Changing Faces start and that is what keeps us going forward:

Because people believe as Greville did – and does – that it “needs doing”.

What is more, I could write to other prospective donors and say “I had already received substantial support”!

Greville and Lisa: you spring-boarded so much – mega thanks!

The Science of Ash and Ashes

An extra-ordinary week which started for me in Guernsey, stuck in Guernsey due to the volcanic ash… I eventually got on a ferry to Weymouth (meeting a friend who had travelled all the way from Beijing over 4 days) reflecting on how nature’s forces are still so little understood despite all modern science’s insights and methods…

And then to the British Burns Association conference to see how burns surgery, therapies and psychological care has advanced over the last 40 years… I was given the chance to reflect on my ‘journey’ since my accident back in 1970 – or, rather, as I described it, the three journeys that can be traced back to that night and that fire…

Nature’s force that night burned 40% of my skin and rendered my face unrecognisable… My long road to recovery from those ashes crucially involved my superb surgery team figuring out the best way to save me and then to reconstruct my face – ‘cutting edge science/surgery’, to coin a phrase, that gave me a face which I could literally live with.

Archibald McIndoe, the famous surgeon who rebuilt the Battle of Britain fighter pilots’ faces (the Guinea Pigs) said in the late 40s: “it is not possible to construct a face of which the observer is unconscious but it should not leave in his/her mind an impression of revulsion, and the patient should not be an object of remark or pity”.

At the BBA, I attended a remarkable lecture (by surgeon Stuart Watson) on the amazing repertoire now available to the 21st Century surgeon – and I was pleased to see him present at my lecture on how the modern science of psycho-social interventions can now enable patients of all ages to rebuild their self-esteem and self-confidence. The pioneering social skills training which Changing Faces has done much to develop has now been shown to enable patients to mediate the impact of their disfigurement in today’s culture that prizes looks so much…

Today I have witnessed and been asked to comment on a spectacular scientific breakthrough – the world’s first full face transplant. Although details are still sketchy, we all hope that the young Spanish farmer who has chosen to undergo this radical experimental surgery will come through with a face that is fully functional and aesthetically pleasing – and will regain self-esteem and self-confidence with his new face. The analysis done by the research teams, the surgeons and the psychologists working with this patient will hopefully inform and enhance future treatments and surgeons’ repertoires.

The week as a whole has resounded to words once used to me by a wise Indian chaikhana owner at a low point in my personal journey, we have “far to go and much to learn”.