Selena Humphrey is comforted by her brother Leland Humphrey who she hasnā??t seen in two years. / The Tennessean
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The distance between Winchester and Nashville is about 90 miles, but the road stretches longer for Selena Humphrey.
She has no car, no money and no face for hitchhiking.
Severely burned by a meth lab explosion in December 2000 when she was 15 years old, she has deep scars - so deep that she has limited neck movement and cannot fully open her mouth.
But she does not hide. She put her face on the front page of The Tennessean and talked about her meth addiction struggles two months ago, then sat on the front row inside the state Capitol providing visual testimony to lawmakers as they debated legislation to tighten the sale of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient for making meth. The law passed.
By happenstance, her face appeared in the newspaper when laser specialists were holding a medical conference in Nashville. The image motivated one doctor to treat her with a new laser therapy that may relieve the rigidity of her scar tissue and improve her appearance.
"I can't even raise my head up," Humphrey said. "It pulls my eyeball plumb down in front of my cheek."
She has to find a way to get from Winchester to Nashville to receive that treatment. Shelley Mays, The Tennessean photojournalist who took her pictures, has taken Humphrey to her first two appointments. Humphrey needs others to help her.
The South Central Tennessee Development District offers transit from Winchester to Nashville and back on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The trip costs $45. Humphrey, who works cleaning rooms at a motel in exchange for a place to stay, does not have the $45.
The fractional laser treatments cost a lot more. Dr. Brian Biesman of Nashville is providing the medical services for free because he considers Humphrey a special case. Another laser specialist, Dr. Rox Anderson of Massachusetts General Hospital, also sent out a message to Humphrey through a letter to The Tennessean offering to find a Nashville colleague to help her.
"My first concern is to try to get some of that scar tissue to relax so she has got better ability to turn her head and, most importantly, to open her mouth," Biesman said.
This technology has been used in recent years on soldiers burned in explosions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The laser treatments can improve scarring after skin graft surgeries and healing time.
"Her scars are really thick," Biesman said. "That poses some challenges because the technology needs to be able to go deep enough in order to release the scar tissue. We are going to have to work on that a little bit and see if our existing technology can do it or if I need to get a little bit creative and see what I can do."
He's hopeful the treatments will work, but he said he cannot guarantee success in her case.
"Selena was told several years ago there is nothing else that can be done," Biesman said. "That was true at the time. For all those people who have been told, 'You have no other options - just live with the scar,' that's not necessarily true."
He is also trying to find an oral surgeon who will help his special patient.
"I only have seven teeth in my whole mouth and can't open my mouth real wide," Humphrey said.
The closest community health center dental clinic that will treat people regardless of their ability to pay is in Murfreesboro - 56 miles from where she lives.
She recently got temporary weekly visits with a daughter who was taken from her because of her meth addiction. She had to pass a drug test for that to happen. Her son's adoptive family also allowed her to talk with him and said she could visit him, but Humphrey has to find a way to get to Smithville.
And she saw her younger brother for the first time in two years. He took a Nashville bus to visit her at Dr. Beisman's office.
Even though she complains about not being able to afford the most basic toiletries, she remains hopeful for a fresh start at life. She uses Our Daily Bread as a spiritual guide. She took the Bible that the publisher of the devotional gave her when she went to her second laser treatment on Tuesday.
"This opportunity is once in a lifetime," Humphrey said. "I'll be damned if a drug addiction will keep that from me."
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Read the original story: Doctor hopes to ease meth-blast victim's scars