HENRICO, VA (WWBT) – NBC12 has a story of violent heartbreak and survival. Last year we told you about the Henrico wife and mother who was shot in the face by her husband while holding their infant. She survived and now she's speaking out for the first time, just a few weeks before a life-changing reconstructive surgery.
Ironically, that surgery is scheduled for a year to the day Starshema Austin was shot in the face by her husband. She was holding their one-year-old child and it was her other two daughters who ended up saving her life. Now, with her husband behind bars she's trying to move forward.
Starshema struggles to speak about the horrific events that would forever change her life. Shielding the trauma to her head with sunglasses, she feels more comfortable when we aim the camera at her hands, and not her wounded face during our interview. It has taken a lot of time and tears to even get to this point.
"It's been very painful," she said. "It's been a lot, a whole lot."
Partly due to her injury, Austin doesn't remember a lot about the night of February 22, 2011. It is her oldest daughter Tamia, who witnessed everything, who has filled in the blanks.
"She told me that he hit me first and of course I still had my baby in my arms, which is very hard for me to imagine that he would continue to go as far as he did when our daughter was in my arms," she recalled.
Tamia told her mom her father shot her in the left side of her face. The bullet traveled from her temple to her neck and lodged near a main artery.
"My baby fell out of my hands because I just lost control at that time so she just dropped," she told us.
In that moment, her eleven year old daughter grew up quickly. She was forced to take care of her injured mom and two sisters.
"She told me that she was just cleaning her up because she was just soaked in blood," she said. "She was trying to clean me up because she didn't think I would bleed as much."
Tamia was the one who answered the door for police and told them "daddy shot mommy."
"I feel like I owe my own daughter so much because if she didn't call when she did I wouldn't be here," Austin sobbed.
Damond Austin pleaded guilty to malicious wounding and a gun charge. He was sentenced to fifty years behind bars.
It has been a long year for Starshema and the girls. Star has been through multiple excruciating surgeries but still lives every day with a constant reminder staring back at her in the mirror.
"That's something else I've been humiliated with just not looking normal, not looking like I used to," she explained. "My self confidence my self esteem that was already down but now it's just completely in the negative. So I try and hide."
But that's all about to change, thanks to facial reconstructive surgeon Dr. Travis Shaw and ocular-plastic surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Zuravleff. On the 22nd, they'll undertake a challenging surgery.
"This is a really serious injury that she's sustained to her face," Dr. Shaw explained. "There's no question about it. It's one of the worst that I've ever seen."
Through a program called Face-to-Face, they're able to see domestic violence victims, like Austin, for free.
Bullet and bone fragments are still inside Austin's face. Shaw showed us they'll rebuild the floor of the eye socket and give it a better foundation.
"That would be one of the goals of our surgery is to try to give her and restore some of the natural symmetry of her face," Shaw said.
The recovery will be difficult, but Shaw believes Star's positive outlook will help her endure.
"My hope is that by helping improve her appearance and her self confidence that it's really going to help her overall healing and heal her heart," he told us.
In many ways, her heart is still broken but now she's looking forward to her post-surgery world.
"I'm just hoping that it helps me get to a point where I don't feel like I have to hide myself," Austin explained.
She said she's received so much support and at some point hopes to help other victims of domestic abuse.
You can find Laura's full interview with Starshema Austin here.
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