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Iona Lister considers the effects of facial disfigurement

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VOL: 98, ISSUE: 15, PAGE NO: 33

Iona Lister, outreach coordinator, Changing Faces

Meeting a patient who has a disfigurement to the face, hands or body can present many challenges. Disfigurements include birthmarks, scars, asymmetrical features, paralysis, skin grafts and skin conditions. These may be present at birth, such as cleft lip, or caused by an accident, fire, cancer treatment, disease or illness.

Meeting a patient who has a disfigurement to the face, hands or body can present many challenges. Disfigurements include birthmarks, scars, asymmetrical features, paralysis, skin grafts and skin conditions. These may be present at birth, such as cleft lip, or caused by an accident, fire, cancer treatment, disease or illness.

The nurse may be the first person the patient communicates with after the event that has caused the disfigurement. Therefore, reactions are very important and may be remembered by the patient as being significant for years to come.

Patients are often more distressed by their appearance and its effects than by the medical aspects of their condition. This places an enormous responsibility on health care staff to respond in ways that are helpful and constructive.

Good communication can be compromised if a professional feels uneasy in the presence of someone with a noticeably different appearance from the norm. We want our patients to feel comfortable and positive about treatment, which can be difficult if battling with our own feelings of sympathy, embarrassment, revulsion or curiosity.

The charity Changing Faces celebrates its tenth anniversary next month. It was founded by James Partridge who was severely disfigured after a car fire. During his rehabilitation, he saw that there were no resources to help those experiencing the social and emotional effects of looking different.

The charity works to enable everyone to tackle disfigurement with confidence. It provides practical information, individual support and counselling, workshops, family days, self-help booklets and videos for disfigured people and their families.

The aim is to increase self-esteem and social confidence, including enabling people to manage the reactions of others to their appearance.

The charity also provides resources for health care staff to support patients and deal with their own reactions and feelings towards them. Regular training courses and study days explore these feelings and how to best address them in a practical way. They also show how to provide an environment in which patients can grow in confidence and feel better about themselves.

The charity also supports professionals with individual concerns about patient care and offers practical strategies. Also, many nurses refer patients to Changing Faces for individual help.

- Changing Faces, 1 and 2 Junction Mews, London W2 1PN; tel: 020 7706 4232; e-mail: info@changingfaces.co.uk

website: www.changingfaces.co.uk

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