Amber Roth's cheek was shattered a few weeks after her college graduation, but her surgeon was able to reconstruct it with a piece of her shoulder in a 12-hour surgery
Amber Roth is learning to live again after a devastating car accident shattered her face weeks after graduating college.
“The right side of my face was completely deflated,” Roth, now 26, tells PEOPLE.
But thanks to a Florida surgeon who rebuilt her face using bones from her shoulder blade, Roth is rebuilding her life. And she wants to encourage others not to give up during hard times.
"If something bad happens, there's always a light at the end of the tunnel,” Roth says. “I want to serve as an inspiration for people who have been through similar accidents, or who have been through a hardship. There's still many years ahead. You shouldn't give up.”
Her positive attitude has been a few years in the making.
In 2021, three weeks after graduating from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Roth was meeting family for a weekend getaway in Helen, Georgia. They planned to visit vineyards and go tubing on the Chattahoochee River. On June 26, while waiting for other family members to join her from Orlando, Roth decided to drive to a waterfall.
She was at a stop sign about to merge onto the highway when two vehicles in front of her collided. A truck’s tailgate crashed through the windshield of her car. It shattered her cheekbone, deflated her lungs and caused a traumatic brain injury and hearing loss.
“The injuries that she suffered were devastating,” says Dr. Anastasiya Quimby, a maxillofacial surgeon with subspecialty in head and neck oncology and microvascular reconstruction at Good Samaritan Medical Center part of the Palm Beach Health Network. “Her bone was crushed up in tiny little pieces. Her bone was turned to dust.”
Surgeons rebuilt her face using what remained of her bones, as well as titanium plates and screws.
After spending two months in a brain trauma unit in Atlanta, Roth moved in with her mother in Jupiter, Fla. She worked odd jobs to pay her bills. Then, something was wrong with her scar. “One day, I woke up, and I saw puss coming from my scar,” she says.
The scar had become infected, leading doctors to remove the titanium plates and screws in October 2021. Quimby also removed random, unattached pieces of bones.
“After we removed all of the bone that was crushed up, there was nothing left,” the doctor says. “It was essentially gone. She had zero structure left in her cheek. So you just had this pushed-in look, this cave where your cheekbone is supposed to be.”
The surgeon didn’t want to reconstruct her face with titanium plates, because she worried they would get infected again or need to be replaced. So Quimby came up with a new solution she hoped would last: using the tip of the scapula on Roth’s left shoulder blade. “It almost has the perfect anatomy,” Quimby says, “to recreate the bone shape that forms the cheek.”
Because of extensive scarring, Roth needed new skin. But since it would be on her face, the surgeon didn’t want to use skin from Roth’s arm or the back of her leg — it wouldn’t look right. "She's so young and I felt that she just deserved to look as close to what she used to see in the mirror before the accident.”
They spent weeks growing new facial skin using tissue expanders. “We had to rebuild everything in layers,” Quimby says.
The 12-hour surgery was August 7, 2023. “It went well,” Dr. Quimby says. “It went even better than I thought.”
Now, more than a month after surgery, Amber feels good. She’s regaining her energy and her confidence. When she looks in the mirror, she sees herself again.
“I've had several family members come visit me and they look at me and they say, 'Oh my gosh, Amber's back,'" she says. “It's a wonderful feeling."
Roth still has a few outpatient surgical procedures in her future. She calls her doctor a “perfectionist.” And Quimby says that whenever Roth is satisfied, that's when she will stop working.
In the meantime, she is driving again. While she has spent the past two years having extensive surgeries, she aged out of her mother’s health insurance. A GoFundMe has been established to help with expenses.
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