SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A beauty pageant contestant who suffered a debilitating stroke went through an eight-hour surgery at UCSF Medical Center to reconstruct her paralyzed face.
At the age of 20, Julia Hernandez had everything going for her.
With her pretty face, infectious personality and winsome smile, she won beauty pageants at her hometown in eastern Los Angeles. But in 2013 her world collapsed.
"A cluster of blood cells that burst in my brain and it caused a hemorrhagic stroke," she said.
The massive stroke crippled her. But perhaps worst of all, it paralyzed part of her face. "I looked in the mirror and I saw my face for the first time and I was shocked. I felt that my identity was completely gone, you know," Hernandez said.
But Julia had a strong family who helped her through those difficult times.
Among them were her twin sister Sophia and father. "One way or another we were going to help become what she was again," her father said.
Julia found meditation which helped calm her anxiety attacks.
She went back to school and got her college degree.
Julia also discovered something else that beauty was truly only skin deep. "There's so much more beyond that, behind that, that makes you a valuable person. I was able to focus on what life really meant," she said.
Though Julia had a newfound spirit, her face was still partially paralyzed.
Her twin Sophia, a medical student at UCSF, began doing research. "I was looking at some things that could help with her facial re-animation," Sophia said.
The answer she found was right in her own backyard at UCSF.
That was Doctor Daniel Knott's specialty - difficult facial re-animations.
Julia went into surgery Tuesday morning for an eight-hour procedure where Dr. Knott and his his colleague Dr. Rahul Seth would transplant muscle from her thigh to the paralyzed section of her face.
It is a delicate complicated surgery which Julia hopes will bring back some simple things she could do once upon a time. "I'm just excited to breathe out of my nostril. I'm excited to sing and smile."
"We're trying to restore a smile. A smile is an incredible feature of life. You don't realize it till you lose it, Dr. Knott added
One footnote -- Dr. Knott has a 95 percent success rate. Full recovery will take about a year. We will, of course, keep in touch with Julia.