Christy Sims’ counts on small miracles these days.
Like the day she woke up, looked in the mirror and saw a dimple on her left cheek.
Five years ago, an ex-boyfriend tried to destroy that face by dousing it with a bowl of acid. Through 13 surgeries, doctors had to completely reconstruct her face. The dimples were gone.
“I had deep dimples and freckles. But one of them came back in my left cheek. Because I smile a lot now,” Sims said. “Me smiling has renewed it. Now I have a faint dimple. It was a small miracle, it was a glimpse of God.”
The freckles that dotted her caramel skin have not returned – yet.
Acid attacks as a form of domestic violence, at least in the United States, are rare. Jan Christiansen, executive director of the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said Sims is the only known case in the state. Internationally, acid attacks are common, with nearly 1,500 recorded annually.
But all forms of domestic violence continues to be a problem. There were 146 domestic violence related deaths in 2017, Christiansen said, up from 121 in 2016. And according to the Violence Policy Center, Georgia ranks 14th worst in the nation for female victims murdered by males in single victim/single offender cases, most of which are classified as domestic violence.
Last Thursday, Sims found herself at the Garage in Midtown where she was a featured speaker for a series of nationwide conversations about domestic and sexual violence led by author and motivational speaker Dorinda Walker.
Since the attack, Sims has written a memoir, “Yellow Tulips on a Cloudy Day,” started the Christy Sims Foundation to raise awareness and funds to support victims of domestic violence and become one of the country’s leading advocates against domestic violence.
“It takes unbelievable courage and bravery for her to get out there and say this is what happened to me,” Christiansen said.
Even before she speaks, women come up to Sims to share their stories or tell her how she inspired them to get out of abusive relationships.
“Women thank for me having the courage to come out and not be ashamed of my circumstance,” Sims said. “A lot of people have left relationships because of my situation. This terrifies people.”
For at least three years after what she calls “the most heinous crime known to mankind,” Sims wore a veil and heavy glasses whenever she was in public. Today, she is wearing a form-fitting royal blue dress, exposing her burned arms, shoulders and neck. Her hair has grown back, so she is experimenting with bangs.
Sims, 47, is dripping with confidence, enthusiasm and ready smiles. When she finally takes the stage, she grabs the microphone and, like she has done for the past five years, tells her story.
“Wearing the veil was a social responsibility. This is a social responsibility,” Sims says. “I got these scars, which proved that it happens. And it is hot outside. So why should I be hot and cover my arms?”
The first 42 years of Sims’ life, were remarkably simple. In 2013, she was the divorced mother of a boy and a girl working as a mental health and substance abuse counselor.
She was also in an on-again, off-again relationship with Andrew Fordham. On April 28, it was on-again, but teetering. Sims had already told Fordham that she didn’t want to marry him. Fordham never hit Sims, but he controlled her time and space. Once six months earlier, he took her keys and wouldn’t let her leave after an argument.
But that was the furthest thing from her mind when Fordham called her from the bathroom and asked for a towel to cover a spill. She grabbed an old towel.
“He is standing there in boxer shorts. No shirt. Holding a yellow bowl. I am still confused,” Sims said.
Fordham tossed the contents of the yellow bowl in Sims’ face hitting her directly in the eyes and covering her face. Her chest and arms became drenched in what would later be determined to be industrial-grade sulfuric acid. Screaming, Sims tried to wash the liquid off her body.
“My last vision is his standing behind me not helping me,” Sims said. “Watching me burn. Watching my body disintegrate.”
Sims suffered third- and fourth-degree burns over 20 percent of her body. Skin was harvested from her stomach to replace the skin on her face. Her face is constantly evolving and said she looks different now than she looked even a year ago. She constantly posts photos of herself on social media, but said nobody has ever seen the worst of her damaged face that was hidden behind the veil.
“I look like a completely different person,” Sims said. “People don’t know how bad it was, but I did not have a face. My entire face had been taken off.”
LaNese Harris, one of Sims’ best friends from Douglass High School in Atlanta, remembers the first time she was able to see her in the hospital.
“I am not scared of hospitals. But when I saw her, my mother and nurse had to pick me off the floor,” Harris said. “The only reason she didn’t see me because she was sleep.”
Jonell Myers, another friend from high school, said that initial visit nearly took her breath away.
“It was extremely hard seeing her,” Myers said. “It was heartbreaking to see my sister like that, burned. But she knew we were there. I could still look in her eyes and see her.”
During the first six months of her recovery, Sims couldn’t be around her children because she either scared or embarrassed them. She endured the stares and cried every day for three years.
But now, watching Sims on stage or on television, the friends are amazed. Harris said Sims was one of cute girls in high school, but quiet.
“She always moved in her own space. She was very quiet. But I never felt like I needed to worry about her,” Harris said. “Now, to see her talk and how powerful her speeches are, makes the hair on my arms stand up.”
Being a face of domestic violence was the last thing that Sims ever expected – before and after her face was damaged.
Sims doesn’t remember, but as she was being wheeled into the ambulance, she told police that it was an accident. After doctors stabilized her, she was placed in a medically induced coma for two months. After she woke up, it took her four months to regain her vision. All the while, Fordham walked free claiming it was an accident.
“I woke up from a coma and there was a guy saying he accidentally dosed me with industrial-grade sulfuric acid,” Sims said. “The police believed him, and he walked around free for two years.”
It wasn’t until May 15, 2014 that Sims took her veil off during a television interview that the world saw what Fordham had done to her. It was only then that Henry County authorities started questioning Fordham. He was finally convicted of one count of aggravated assault and two counts of aggravated battery in 2015 and sentenced to 20 years in prison followed by 20 years of probation.
At the Garage event, woman after woman walked on stage to recount horrific stories of domestic and sexual violence. They all talked about the scars on the inside, until Sims speaks and shows her outside.
When she dreams, she said she sees her old face. But she doesn’t have old photos of herself in her house and rarely posts old photos on social media. This is who she is now.
“There are so many women who walk around with scars on the inside, but I have the scars outside,” Sims said. “I walk around and you know immediately something happened to me. I wear these scars as a badge of courage, because he didn’t tear me down inside. I don’t feel sorry for myself.”
For good measure, she smiles. Showing off that left dimple.
Staff writer Asia Burns contributed to this story.