Tue | Jun 15, 2021

Horribly disfigured - One woman's fight for her life

Published:Monday | March 26, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Andrea Shakes three months after the attack.
Andrea Shakes before the attack.
Andrea Shakes three months after the attack.
Andrea Shakes during an interview at with The Gleaner six months after she was burnt with acid. - Gladstone Taylor/Photographer
Andrea Shakes was burnt with acid by a male attacker. she suffered burns on the left side of her face as well as her left arm and left leg. - Contributed photos

Anastasia Cunningham, News Coordinator

A random, vile, senseless act has left one woman horribly disfigured and her life turned upside down, as she struggles to regain control of her life.

Thirty-five-year-old Andrea Shakes was once a woman with unblemished skin, working on pursuing her dreams in career development. After four years, she was finally in her last semester at the Vocational Training Development Institute, while doing weekend promotions for Berger Paints Ltd.

On the morning of September 30 last year, Andrea set out to work just after 9 from her home in Pembroke Hall, St Andrew. While walking along Ken Hill Drive, she noticed a Nissan car which drove up and stopped just behind her.

She turned around to see a man exit the vehicle with a gallon-size paint container and walk towards her. He picked up the pace, so she began to cross to the other side of the road.

He then rushed towards her, doused her with a liquid substance, grabbed her handbag, jumped back in the vehicle and the driver sped off.

Within seconds, she felt like her whole body was on fire and when she looked down, she saw her clothes and her skin melting away. She started screaming for help, but none came.

In pain and agony and unable to see from her left eye, Andrea managed to make it back home. Still screaming for help, she started ripping off her clothes and her neighbours came out and quickly started to hose her down.

She was hospitalised for approximately two months at the University Hospital of the West Indies and treated for third-degree burns on the left side of her body, from her face down to her leg.

Muscle damage

Six months later, after three skin-graft surgeries, using skin from her right leg, the 35-year-old is now left severely scarred with serious muscle damage.

The police still have no leads or break in the case and Andrea is also still puzzled as to what prompted the attack.

"To me, it doesn't look like a robbery and everyone I spoke to said it was just not a robbery, that this was for me, it was intentional. If someone wanted to rob someone in broad daylight, I don't see why they have to walk around with a can of whatever substance it was," she said.

It is strongly believed that the incident was domestic related, but she is at a loss as to who could have wanted to hurt her like that.

"I honestly don't know where it is coming from," she said.

Today, desperately trying to stay positive, life has not been the same for the soft-spoken woman.

At the time of the assault, the mother of three was living with her common-law husband and their eight-year-old son, Kurtel. Her badly disfigured features have helped to change all that.

Her appearance has killed any desire she may have for a relationship or even a social life, but the effect it has had on Kurtel was one of the greatest challenges.

"He didn't really take it well. He was scared of coming close to me or even talking to me. I understand why because I was really looking horrible. After the surgery when I went home, I asked him, 'How you think you mommy look now?' and he said, 'Half good'," she related.

Now living with her mother and two teenage children in Walkers Wood, St Ann, her relationship with Kurtel is spent mainly talking on the phone.

"I am hoping to have him spend the Easter with me in the country," she shared.

The incident has also taken a tremendous toll on her financially. Currently unemployed with mounting bills, Andrea has long depleted the little funds she had, but has a far way to go. She needs additional surgery to repair the muscles as well as to restore her features.

Trying to stay positive

She also has to be undergoing frequent physiotherapy to properly restore mobility in the neck, arm and left side of her body.

"I am trying to stay as positive as I can be. I try to pray and trust God to work things out for me. I really just want to get on with my life right now," she stated.

She often wonders if she could be restored to her former self.

"I wish I could get a chance to go overseas to do surgery because I know they have more technology and can do wonders," said mused.

Urgently in need of earning a living, she is hoping to complete school and get a job in human resource, guidance or career counselling.

"I want to finish school because it doesn't make sense to do four years and reach that far and give up," she said.

And after a pause, she declared, "I just want my life back."