Braces, X-rays, extractions and countless consultations; Rebecca Heasley has certainly endured more than her fair share of invasive medical procedures over the last decade.
In fact, she’s now recovering from double jaw surgery – a gruelling procedure which, in January, took some eight hours to complete.
“An orthodontist in Loughlinstown recognised that something wasn’t quite right,” the now 20-year-old explains chatting to SHEmazing. “So I was referred to Gerry Kearns in St James’s Hospital.”
At the time she was aged just 12 – shortly afterwards she was diagnosed with ICR: idiopathic condylar resorption, a poorly understood condition which can result in a misshapen jaw, significant pain and difficulty when eating and breathing.
It is particularly common among teenage girls, though doctors can still only speculate as to why that is.
“The first two weeks were the roughest,” the Co Wicklow native reflects today of her on-going recovery. “I was in a lot of discomfort and I just thought ‘oh, what have I done!’
“But once I got through those initial few days, I started to feel better. The swelling began to go down too and I could see how successful the operation had been.”
•• Day 11 •• Post Jaw Op, Day 13 of liquid diet! Still swollen around my cheeks and jawline, rocking the chipmunk look Neck and Hip stitches out and finished my antibiotics yesterday Getting stronger and stronger by the day #doublejawoperation #crimsonchin #bitbybit #progress #chipmunk #hobblingaround #aulwan
During surgery bone was taken from Rebecca’s hip and then inserted into her lower jaw to bring it forward by a full 2cm. Her top jaw was also broken and realigned.
Now, she’s still grappling with a largely liquid diet, something which she’s been documenting on her Instagram page.
“In total I maybe had a single bowl of cereal the week after surgery, but now I can have things like scrambled eggs, overcooked pasta and mashed potato.”
••Week 2 •• End of Week 2 post Double Jaw Operation: Chipmunk look has calmed slightly There's still swelling around my cheeks, lips, chin and jaw line. My lower lip has some sensation back but my chin is still completely numb. Aul' hip is healing well, stitches completely dissolved now. Pain wise, there's not much, a lot less than I expected anyway! I get these short spasm around my lower lip and chin every few hours, which is the muscles acting the maggot and the anesthetic wearing off! I've 7 sets of strong elastic bands holding my jaws closed, so still on a liquid diet, for the next 2-3 weeks.. All I want is a solid chicken sandwich.. Maybe a few cheese burgers and some sweet potato fries but my day will come. #progress #bitbybit #doublejawoperation #recovery #gimmeaburger #week2 #slowlybutsurely
She’s since returned to her studies at UCD – Spanish and linguistics – and is now getting ready to sit her second year exams.
The eldest sibling in a family of three boys and three girls, Rebecca will also travel to Chile this summer to spend a year abroad in a Spanish-speaking university.
“My surgeon told me to take a full month off,” she says, “but I needed to keep up my college work and make sure I pass my exams so I can go to South America – meaning I was back within two weeks.
“At first, my hip caused me a good bit of pain, but once I could walk again I felt I could also attend lectures.”
Reflecting back on her teenage years, thankfully Rebecca reckons she’s managed to shoulder ICR pretty well. “I’ve actually always been quite outgoing.
“Of course I was self-conscious that I had a very weak jaw-line, and at times I struggled with my breathing, but I tried not to let it get me down too much.”
She's also found inspiration via the well-known blogger Leanne Woodfull – who had a similar operation also with Mr Kearns three years ago, and who documented her experiences via a popular vlog. Now Rebecca is hoping that she can help others in the same way.
“I've already gotten messages from people asking about it all, what the recovery is like and if I would recommend the surgery,” she says.
Indeed, she’s now in the process of putting together her own video.
“It will contain hospital pictures and I'll talk more in depth about the experience,” Rebecca reveals, concluding: “I love being able to help raise awareness of ICR – even if that’s simply offering a bit of reassurance or just providing a couple helpful tips for recovery.”