The Human Impact

Italy acid attack victim fights back to regain her smile

July 25, 2013

Lucia remembers a hooded man running away. “He looked at me for an instant, I saw he was holding a can…”

The man runs down the stairs and his footsteps echo in Lucia’s memory. “I told myself a million times that maybe I could have escaped, maybe I could have shielded myself a little better.”

The man is now far away, Lucia sees herself again standing in the doorway of her home as she recounts those terrible moments to Corriere della Sera’s reporter Giusi Fasano.

“He threw the liquid in the can at me. I remember my face frying, I was gasping.”

“There were bubbles moving across my cheeks.”

It happened three months ago in the central Italian city of Pesaro. Lucia Annibali, 36 years old in September and a lawyer, tells her story as one would describe a battle, a fight against violence and the human misery of who did this to her. She was attacked by a man who threw acid on her, a heinous act that evokes those more common in other parts of the world, India for example.

“I will never surrender, whoever did this to me had better remember that,” she told Corriere della Sera. “They may have taken away my face but not my willingness to start over again. I am here, alive (and) I swore to myself that I would make it and I will.”

She made this promise to herself on the evening of April 16 while she was being rushed to the hospital. “I know who’s done this… my ex.” She told herself she would be strong as she endured the torments of special eye drops that needed to be applied every three hours.

“I told myself I won’t be blind, like the doctors say,” Fasano writes. “My eyes were white, completely covered by the acid. They (doctors) created a fluid with my blood and they cleaned my eyes, I added in the will to heal.”

Lucia can see now. She looks at her old self as she flicks through a photo album.

“That isn’t me any more,” she says. “I’m perfectly aware of the fact that I won’t be like before, but I’ll do whatever I can to resemble my old self, you’ll see.”

On the table in her home lies a silicone mask which she wears for a few hours every day. “Isn’t it fantastic? I look like a thief.” She wears a fabric one during the rest of the day. Her right hand was also burned by the acid and is covered by a glove made of the same material. It helps to keep the skin pressed tightly to her flesh and produces a better result after the skin grafts.

Lucia is at home, at her parents’ home in Urbino, a historic town in the central region of Marche. But she keeps going back to the hospital, more than 200 km (125 miles) north in Parma. Medical checks, physiotherapy, massage, laser treatments. And more surgery to come.

“It’ll take a year before I have a somehow graceful face again,” she says. “I don’t look great at the moment, I know that, but I’m going to have an operation that will broaden my mouth…and finally I’ll be able to smile again.”

After weeks in the hospital, when she was still bandaged, Lucia mustered up the courage to ask doctors what she would look like. “You’ll have scars,” they said. “Define scars,” Lucia insisted. “Your skin will be of a different colour, you won’t like yourself at the beginning but you’ll improve.”

“I tried to cry but I found that I couldn’t,” Lucia says. “If I had cried I would have ruined the protective film they had put in my eyes.”

She would hear people talking about her case on television, she heard the word “femicide”.

Prosecutors have gathered enough evidence to arrest Luca Varani, a lawyer from Pesaro who had had a relationship with Lucia and who is alleged to have stalked her for months before hiring two Albanian men to carry out the attack (both men are also in jail, one of them had a criminal record and had been ordered to leave the country).

One of the hardest moments for Lucia was when she decided to look at herself in the mirror. As nurses were helping her to change the bandages and showing her how to do it herself, she asked for a mirror. “I looked at my reflection but I still couldn’t see very well,” she recalls. “As usual, I made a silly comment, that I would look better with a fringe.”

The next tough moment will be going out in public, facing people. “I sort of went out the other day in Pesaro with my mother and my aunt,” she says. “Everyone was staring at me…Oh well, sooner or later I’ll give it another try.”

(Reporting by Giusi Fasano, writing by Maria Caspani)

You can read the interview in Italian here

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