Man With Facial Paralysis Wiggles Eyebrows For First Time, Melts Hearts

A man recovering from facial reconstruction surgery is blowing minds and melting hearts online.

Justin Starks, 24, has gone viral on Reddit's Interesting As F*** forum after sharing a video of him wiggling his eyebrows—a huge step after his major operation in January.

On November 30, 2021, Starks fell from a three-story balcony and broke every bone in his face. He told Newsweek: "In a lot of ways, I was lucky. I actually don't remember falling or the impact.

"A lot of people assume I must've been in agony, but by the time I regained awareness, I was already on some very powerful painkillers."

The Atlanta man was in hospital for two weeks after the fall and had surgery to repair his jaw. He underwent facial reconstruction surgery on Martin Luther King Day in January and has been sharing updates on his recovery on Reddit and his Instagram account @Starks_One.

"During the second [surgery], they did a coronal incision—basically cutting from ear to ear across my scalp—to peel my face off and put my face bones back together," he said.

"I also had to have my mouth wired shut from December to mid-February, which was honestly probably the most torturous part of the ordeal as I could not eat solid foods.

"[By] the end I had 30 plates, 91 screws, and lost 35 pounds."

After the second surgery, Starks suffered from facial paralysis, leaving him unable to move his eyebrows and lips or smile. Over the past few months he has gradually regained control of his features and is continuing to heal.

Facial reconstruction surgery can help to repair damage caused by burns, trauma or illnesses such as cancer. A cosmetic surgeon restores the facial structure, sometimes using tissues from other parts of the patient's body, to improve function and boost a patient's confidence.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, there were nearly 7 million reconstructive surgeries carried out in the U.S. in 2020. The surgeries performed most often include tumor removal, laceration repair, scar revision, hand surgery and maxillofacial surgery similar to Starks' procedure.

For many people, reconstructive surgery can be life-changing. In 2021, a 9-year-old boy who was mauled by a hyena in Zimbabwe received reconstructive surgery for free in neighboring South Africa, after losing his left eye, nose and sections of his upper lip and forehead in the attack. In 2019, a Californian cosmetic surgeon who survived breast cancer told Newsweek how reconstructive surgery helped her to come to terms with her diagnosis.

Being denied such surgery can have a devastating impact on a person's mental health. In February this year, Davontae Stewart, who has keloid scars covering 75 percent of his body, was left in despair after discovering the surgeries were not covered by his insurance. Although the scar tissue had impacted his mobility and forced him to give up his job, the Detroit man was told the procedure was classed as "cosmetic."

Starks has not had to contend with this problem. While the video of his recovery is remarkable, it's his upbeat attitude that has wowed social media users. When one generous Redditor offered to contribute towards his medical bills, he asked them to donate money to charity instead. He also feels he is "lucky" that he didn't land on his skull or neck, as the situation could have been "a lot worse."

"I often think about how lucky I am [that] my life wasn't cut short, so I want to take the opportunity I was given, experience things I want to experience, and live my best life."

The support he has received online has been overwhelming, he said, which motivates him to update the world about his progress.

"I didn't expect the overwhelming support from complete strangers," he said. "But I had thousands upon thousands of [people] commenting, telling me how great I was recovering."

Since the accident, Starks has earned his master's degree, started his first job and put a downpayment on his first house. Although his recovery isn't complete and he will need further dental and reconstructive work, he is happy with his life.

He said: "I have an identical twin brother. My doctor, when he was taking on my case, told me that his goal was to get me to the point where I was the 'better-looking twin.'

"Once we reach that, I can definitively say mission accomplished!"

Man regains facial function after reconstructive surgery
Left, an X-ray of Justin Starks' face after the accident. Right, the 24-year-old after reconstructive surgery. Justin Starks