A college student from Queens who underwent a rare surgery from a Northwell Health doctor was recently surprised with gifts from a popular local beauty shop.
Taina Contreras of Briarwood, just five months old when she had her first surgery to correct an open cleft lip.
Since birth, she endured more than 21 surgeries — sometimes two or three in a year — to correct abnormalities in her face and eye formation, including in the eyelid, lip and nose.
The operations, which she said were “painful” and required “months of recovery” in a statement, failed to “truly correct the facial differences,” according to the health system and led to her receiving episodes of insults and violence because of her appearance.
“I hope that no one else would ever have to endure what I had to go through because of my appearance,” Contreras said. “For me, it was important not to give up and to strive for a normal life.”
In December, Contreras and her mother Eva learned of Dr. James Bradley, vice chair of Northwell’s department of surgery, and his work with facial differences.
At the time, Contreras was experiencing discomfort because of eye dryness, having been born without tear ducts, blurry vision and other problems caused by the position of her eyes.
“Taina was born with the very rare Tessier #4 Craniofacial Cleft, which is so rare that we believe it occurs in only one of a million births,” Bradley said in a statement. “There are 14 rare craniofacial clefts that occur every 1 in 1,000, births; but in Taina’s case, the incidence of a bilateral #4 is so much more unusual.”
During the surgery, which took place on Dec. 22, Bradley reshaped her nose and corrected a scar on her upper lip.
“All of this was done to correct not only her functional problems and improve her appearance, but to give her a feeling of normalcy,” Bradley said. “She’s a very brave and sensitive young lady, and our goal is to make her feel as comfortable as possible as she pursues every activity in her life.”
The Queens College student would be reunited with her surgeon at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park on March 3, where she received an additional surprise.
Contreras also loves make-up, but said that she had very little experience with it due to her facial issues. When this was brought to his attention, Jamie Mazzei, co-owner of NuBest Salon in Manhasset, sprang into action.
During her meeting with Bradley, Contreras was surprised with a special gift from Mazzei and NuBest, a basket of high-end make-up and beauty products for her hair, eyes and face.
“When we heard about Taina, we decided that we had to reward her courage and her resiliency with some beautiful products,” Mazzei said. “I hope she enjoys them, and that these items make her feel as beautiful on the outside as we know she is on the inside.”
Contreras concluded the reunion, which took place on World Birth Defects Day, with a relevant message.
“We may have scars on our faces, but under all that, we’re just the same as everyone else,” Contreras said. “We want to be loved and respected, just like the rest of the world.”