Friday 21 June 2019

'People would say ‘did you eat your elbow?'... they'd call me ‘jaw breaker’ or ‘double jaw’' - Two pals undergo the same transformative surgery

Pals Megan and Gemma had surgery to fix their under bites.
Pals Megan and Gemma had surgery to fix their under bites.
Photo: @jawsurgerygem
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

“I can breathe better, I can chew better. It’s quality of life… everything.”

Megan Donnelly (20) and her close friend Gemma Donnelly (21) both had an underbite in their teenage years, meaning that their lower teeth and jaws protruded in front of their upper teeth. They couldn’t fully close their mouths, couldn’t properly bite into a slice of toast or chew their foods.

In Gemma’s case, her under bite meant that she was taunted by bullies.

“I was walking on the streets and people would say ‘did you eat your elbow because my jaw was sticking out?’ People would call me ‘jaw breaker’ or ‘double jaw’.”

“It was mostly lads shouting across the road."

“I couldn’t smile because I couldn’t close my teeth properly; I couldn’t eat burgers; I couldn’t chew. I just wanted one day to be able to close my mouth.”

Megan and Gemma, after their surgeries
Megan and Gemma, after their surgeries

“I used to be afraid to go out, I was afraid to walk out on the streets, I was afraid to eat in front of people... I couldn’t smile properly, I couldn’t eat properly.”

Gemma, a full-time waitress, was told when she was ten years old that she was a candidate for a jaw surgery that would fix her under bite. The surgery is performed once a candidate turns 18, allowing for the jaw bones to fully form.

During the four-hour surgery, a surgeon cuts and breaks the jaw with a small saw. It is then moved into its new position and held in place with small metal plates and screws. The gum is stitched back into place with dissolvable stitches which eventually fall out.

When candidates wake from the surgery, their jaw is wired shut, and remains this way for at least six weeks.

Patients are confined to a diet of milkshakes, soups, and other liquid foods while the jaw heals.

Megan, who is also a distant cousin of Gemma's, had her surgery in February.

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Growing up me and my best friend Megan had the same condition~ we needed to get double jaw surgery done. We were just born with it and as you were going through the double jaw surgery process we realized and it amazed us both how many people around the country and around the world had it too and had to get this done. It’s really common now of days compared to a few years ago. So this is why I sat up this account to help people with their journey to help them and give them support. Looking back I had my surgery in March 2016 and Megan had hers in February 2018. And I would advise people to go for it, you won’t ever look back! Last night I met Megan and it was the first time seen her with no braces and this is the end of the surgery journey and I’m so proud of her❤️ we are now surgery and brace free after many years of orthodontict appointments, braces, and the hard few months of surgery. These are before and after pics are of the 2 of us together ❤️ @jawsurgerymeg

A post shared by Gemma Donnelly (@jawsurgerygem) on

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Nearly 1 year post operation!!

A post shared by Gemma Donnelly (@jawsurgerygem) on

She told  “I got my braces when I was 14 and it all started from there. My orthodontist noticed the under bite that I had, and she said you’ll need surgery.”

“I was terrified. The thoughts of it would turn anyone off,” the trainee accountant said.

“I had an encounter on the street with a guy, I must have been looking down and laughing, and he said something like ‘what’s wrong with her jaw’, and I said ‘is he talking to me?’”

“I forgot about [the surgery] for a while. I had the braces on, and tried to put it to the back of my mind. I wouldn’t google anything about it, and tried to block it out as best I could.”

“When Gemma had hers is when I really started to think about it again. It was Gemma who encouraged me to have mine. I saw her entire transformation and thought it was great, and it could be fine for me to go ahead.”

Megan, who describes herself as shy before the operation, now enjoys socialising much more.

“The recovery was very tough,” recalls Megan. “I couldn’t eat for about a month, I had soup, yoghurt, all that through a lovely syringe, that was great fun.”

But she added: “I find I’m more up for going out with my friends. Before, I’d be like ‘you go ahead, I’ll stay at home’.”

“My aim is to encourage other young people if they do find themselves in me and Gemma’s situation, there is light at the end of the tunnel. It might seem scary, but it really can change your life.”

Gemma runs an Instagram account @jawsurgerygem, while Megan runs @jawsurgerymeg, where they share photos of themselves both pre- and post-surgeries.

Gemma recalls: “I got loads of followers. I followed people who had the jaw surgery because I wanted to find out things like what can you eat, and all the different things, and they all replied and gave me help. And I started posting pictures of my journey myself.”

“I got a big response from people all over Ireland, all over the world. I even had parents texting me, saying ‘my daughter has to get it done’.”

“Since I got it done, I was able to walk into a job, I got a boyfriend. It was great. I’m a really chatty and friendly person so I’m more self-confident now in talking to people.”

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