Seventeen years after a shotgun blast riddled her face with birdshot, a Memphis-area woman is facing the future with anticipation, thanks partly to a discovery made during recovery. Seventeen years after a shotgun blast riddled her face with birdshot, a Memphis-area woman is facing the future with anticipation, thanks partly to a discovery made during recovery.
Amelia Vaughn says she emerged from her ordeal with her own skincare formula – the ingredients of which she is guarding carefully, with the assistance of a lawyer, as discussions proceed with several companies.
The formula, says Vaughn, did for her face what doctors once said would cost tens of thousands of dollars. “It’s natural, but it is not herbs,” said Vaughn, adding that the key ingredient can be grown in a garden.
Her skincare-formula saga is an element of a multilayered story with threads that include the importance of gun safety, the commitment of family to support and healing, the generosity of a stranger and Vaughn’s own determination to keep “moving forward.”
Debra Smith, Vaughn’s aunt, remembers the accident well. It happened in Tunica, Miss. Vaughn, who was in her first semester at LeMoyne-Owen College, was back at home with her mother for the winter break. Preparations were underway for a night out when Vaughn’s brother came in.
Amelia Vaughn said her head and face resembled a dartboard after a shotgun loaded with birdshot exploded in her face several years ago. (Photos by Brian Ramoly).
Then a loud noise came out of the sawed-off shotgun,
“It lifted her up off the ground. She hit the side of the window. We all ran out the house. We panicked and ran to different neighbors’ houses calling for help,” said Smith.
When Smith and others made it back into the house, Vaughn had staggered into the living room.
The sight, said Smith, was horrifying and one she never will forget.
“It has instilled a fear in me about guns. I just hate guns, any kind. I just don’t want to be in the presence of them.”
Vaughn was flown by helicopter to The Regional Medical Center at Memphis.
“Her head was like two times the size of its normal size,” said Smith. “That night when we went into the room for a few minutes to see her, I really didn’t think she was going to live.”
‘I don’t need to be down here’
The only pain that Vaughn actually recalls is her head hitting the floor after the shotgun blast.
“When I landed on the floor, my head was like in a movie scene. I couldn’t control it, I had hit the ground so hard,” she said.
One of her legs was badly twisted. Her right hand took some of the blow and never has returned to normal. And she is legally blind in her right eye.
“I didn’t see nothing but black. I thought it must have been hell,” she recalled.
Later, she woke up in a room at The MED, surrounded by patients “looking bad.” She asked an attendant why she was in a room with people in such bad shape. Startled, the attendant told Vaughn that she was feared brain dead.
“They were asking me questions like who the president is, and what month it is. What’s my name? Yeah I had the answers. I said, ‘yall need to take me to a room. I don’t need to be down here.’”
‘We ain’t got that kind of money’
Vaughn doesn’t know the names of the doctors who worked on her, just that there were lots of them. Numerous surgical procedures unfolded over the days and weeks that followed.
“They told my mom that reconstructive surgery was needed to go in and get those things out of my face, there were so many. Basically they were saying my face was deformed….When it hit my face it splattered out and left all those little black holes in my face.”
The doctors, Vaughn said, told her mother that reconstructive surgery could cost as much as $40,000.
“We ain’t got that kind of money,” Vaughn recalls her mother saying.
The family didn’t even have the money to pay the hospital bill. Then a stranger, who had heard of the family’s financial plight, approached Vaughn’s mother and told her he would pay the debt.
“She said she had never seen the man a day in her life and it was the last time she seen him.”
‘Like a mask’
For a while, family members tried to hide mirrors from Vaughn.
“We thought that it was going to be harder for her to take the results than it was the actual gunshot because she had always been a real pretty girl and it had her so disfigured,” said Smith.
Soon after doctors mentioned the need for reconstructive surgery, Vaughn’s mother started bringing some of the “remedies” used around the house and applied them to her daughter’s face.
When back at home, Vaughn started experimenting. “I just wanted something thick that could camouflage, like a mask,” she said.
Her skin care formula emerged – a combination of the “remedies” and the additions she’s long kept guarded.
“Over the months, my face began to heal and it was healing quick…In like the second month, I began to look in the mirror and I seen the difference….I kept doing it.”
Now she uses it only to deal with minor skin concerns.
Born in Tunica on May 13, 1975, Vaughn early on developed a sense of the need to keep “moving forward, trying new things, doing things out of the norm.”
At LeMoyne-Owen she began with an interest in education, then switched to business. She grew up with her mom, a homemaker, with her dad providing support.
At 16, she had a child, but still graduated with her high school class, thanks in large measure to a lot of family support. Her daughter, now 19, attends Jackson State University.
In high school, Vaughn wrote a high school essay and won a scholarship that helped her go to LeMoyne-Owen.
About a year and half after the gun accident, she tried to go back to school, but found the physical challenges daunting. She went to work, holding down various jobs in Tunica, including as a PBS operator and doing auditing work.
Later came a second child, and a move to Memphis. She tried school at Southwest, but said finances became an issue. And when her children’s father started driving trucks for a living, she got a truck driver’s license to help out in emergencies.
And periodically, folks who knew about her formula, particularly her sisters, told her to let somebody know about it.
‘Trying to make the best decision’
In August of 2009, Vaughn made contact with a major skincare product provider via the Internet. She filled out a form and got a call back from the research and development department.
Vaughn said she shared some of her “trade secrets” and was told to expect further contact. She followed up with letter in January of 2010, which led to conversations with a vice president, who, like the others, told her “this is going to be a long process.”
She is not sure how they found out, but soon after, six other companies contacted her by email. She has retained a lawyer to guard her interest as the discussion go forward.
Sure about her formula, Vaughn decided to do some product testing on her own, videotaping testimonies from people she picked at random.
Krystal Windham, 19, took the challenge. She was working at a Chick-fil-A when Vaughn came through and asked if she would be willing to try the product.
“I was shocked, I guess,” said Windham. “I didn’t really know what was going on at first.”
Windham used Vaughn’s “formula” for two or three weeks, wanting her skin to clear up and become softer.
“It worked pretty well,” said Windham. “It felt a lot better on my skin than other ones (products). Others kind of bummed me out.”
Confident that her formula eventually will hit the market, Vaughn wants it to be affordable. Until, then, she is practicing patience and gratitude.
“I just am grateful that I am still here and that my life has been spared,” said Vaughn. “I am grateful that I am here to tell the story.”