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.
It 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," she said. "I felt that my identity was completely gone, you know?"
But Hernandez had a strong family who helped her through those difficult times. Among them were her twin sister Sophia and her father.
"One way or another, we were going to help become what she was again," her father said.
Hernandez found meditation, which helped calm her anxiety attacks. She went back to school and got her college degree.
She 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.
Sophia, a medical student at UCSF, began doing research.
"I was looking at some things that could help with her facial re-animation," she said.
The answer she found was right in her own backyard at UCSF, where Dr. Daniel Knott specializes in difficult facial re-animations.
Hernandez went into surgery Tuesday morning for the procedure, during which Dr. Knott and his colleague Dr. Rahul Seth transplanted muscle from her thigh to the paralyzed section of her face.
It was a delicate, complicated surgery that 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," she said. "I'm excited to sing and smile."
Dr. Knott has a 95 percent success rate, and full recovery will take about a year.
* More local news
* Send us a news tip
* Download the abc7NY app for breaking news alerts