Roy Larner went to the Black & Blue restaurant in London’s Borough Market on June 3 to watch a soccer game, never expecting he’d barely get out alive.
But as the game ended three terrorists wearing suicide belts and having 12-inch knives duct-taped to their hands burst through the doorway yelling, “Allahu akbar.”
Despite not having a weapon, Larner fought the terrorists, giving other patrons time to flee. But he suffered eight stab wounds – one of which nearly cut off his left ear -- that required 80 stitches, put him in a hospital for 12 days and left him disfigured. Police shot the terrorists dead but not before they had killed eight and injured 48.
Larner’s heroics, which earned him the nickname “Lion of London Bridge,” didn’t go unnoticed. Face Forward, a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based medical nonprofit that treats victims of violence, plans to bring Larner to California this month to undergo plastic surgery.
“I am scarred up everywhere, and when I see the scars, or other people ask me about them, it is a reminder of the attack,” said Larner, adding that his struggle probably saved other people’s lives.
He is one of dozens of victims of terror attacks, domestic violence, human trafficking, acid attacks, and random violence who have been assisted by Face Forward.
Founded in 2007 by Beverly Hills’ leading plastic surgeon, Dr. David Alessi, and wife Deborah Alessi the 501(c)(3) works with people from around the world who have been victimized by violent fanatics using acid, fire, beatings and slashings to disfigure victims.
“We realized if we were really going to help people, we needed a whole team around them. So I do the surgeries, which fixes the scars, but that’s really the minor part. Fixing the emotional scars can be even more challenging...” Alessi said.
“One of our victims from London opened the door, and had a bucket of acid poured over his head. It was the wrong door. The acid attack was actually meant for someone else,” the doctor said.
Another patient from London was badly deformed when his girlfriend threw acid on him.
A woman from Uganda was attacked by her husband with acid and blinded in one eye. Face Forward helped her through surgery, and brought her children to the U.S., where she is now getting a master’s degree.
“With an acid attack you essentially burn someone’s face off, you blind them, and horribly disfigure them …,” Alessi said.
Several victims they have helped are victims of domestic violence or sex trafficking. A woman in Afghanistan was trafficked by her husband after he joined the Taliban. He chained her to a bed, where he brought men to rape her to raise money for the Muslim group. When he left to fight with ISIS, he cut off his wife’s nose to deform her.
Face Forward donates more than $1 million annually in surgeries and other support to the victims from as far as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Peru, England, Germany, Mexico and Kenya. In America, Face Forward has patients from Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Arizona, Georgia and California.
But victims don’t just receive services. They are also expected to give back to their community, to the world, in some way.
“What is magic about Face Forward, is any survivor -- any woman, or man or child who comes through Face Forward -- has to agree to do something great with their life,” Alessi said.
While he can do the surgeries, the organization still needs funds to support the patients before, during and after the surgeries, which can run as much as $100,000 per person.
“We do need to raise money to pay for the victims’ airfare, accommodations, anesthesiologists, operating room, materials, tissue, medication, food and care after their surgeries,” Deborah Alessi said.
They hold an annual fundraising gala, the next one on Sept. 23 at the Taglyan Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Roy Larner will be coming from London to attend and prepare for his surgeries.
Deborah Alessi said she is passionate about helping people who have gone through life altering trauma to regain their confidence, happiness and health. She has also healed from her own violent past as a result of her work.
“Face Forward found me,” Deborah Alessi said. “I didn’t realize how much I needed it, how much I needed healing from my past being a survivor of domestic violence.”