In 25 years, The Oprah Show has done more than 120 shows on domestic violence, but no story was more horrific, no lesson more important, than that of Carolyn Thomas.
Carolyn had been in an abusive relationship for eight years with her boyfriend Terrence. One night, the abuse turned deadly when Terrence went from ranting to grabbing a gun, Carolyn says. After a struggle, Terrence shot and killed Carolyn's mother. He then grabbed Carolyn's throat and shot her at point-blank range. Against all odds, Carolyn survived. She says she believes she survived to tell her story.
Terrence's bullet had obliterated her upper jaw, the roof of her mouth, her nose and an eye. In one 10-hour marathon operation, surgeons cut a piece of bone from her leg and shaped it into a new jaw. They rebuilt her eye socket, replaced the roof of her mouth, and took skin from her neck and shaped it into lips. Rebuilding her nose was nearly impossible, so Carolyn wears a prosthetic one.
After 13 surgeries, a team of doctors and specialists pushed the limits of reconstructive surgery and were able to restore Carolyn's shattered face.
Carolyn says the ordeal that started when she survived the unthinkable has made her into a more courageous and stronger woman. "God does things for different reasons. I think that he knew that I was going to be strong. He knew that I wasn't going to be ashamed of how things turned out and that I was going to go out and be the best advocate that I could be. The best motivational speaker I could be. And, you know, encourage other women to do the same thing that I'm doing."
For years, Carolyn has wanted to get answers from Terrence Kelly, the man who killed her mother and destroyed her face. The Oprah Show sent producer Bridgette to Robertson Correctional Institute in Abilene, Texas, to find out what Terrence has to say for himself. He claims that he unknowingly smoked a cigarette laced with drugs the night of the shooting.
Despite the answers he gave on camera, Carolyn says she would someday like to personally confront Terrence in a mediation session. "In a way, I kind of want to thank him because he made me become this strong woman that I am today," she says. "Being courageous and going out in public and dealing with the situation."
"I understand what you mean by wanting to thank him. This is what it took for you," Oprah says. "The message is for every other woman who's in an abusive situation: Don't let it take a bullet."
Today, Carolyn works as motivational speaker, counseling victims of domestic violence.
If you're in an abusive relationship and you need help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, or go to TheHotline.org
Jill and her father, Kirk, really struck a nerve when they appeared on a 2005 episode of The Oprah Show titled "When You're the Fat One in the Family." Jill, then 20, was the youngest and heaviest of four children. Kirk openly spoke of how Jill's weight bothered him and how he criticized Jill.
At the time, Jill tearfully talked about how her father's disapproval hurt her. "I've wanted my dad to accept me my whole life. He treats me differently than he treats every other person in my family," she said. "My whole life he has told me that I'm not pretty and that I'm overweight and that I need to lose weight, and he's just never been nice to me."
A year later, Jill returned to The Oprah Show. After getting gastric bypass surgery, she had lost 170 pounds and said her relationship with her father had improved significantly. "I wanted that relationship between my dad and myself, and I wanted to feel good about myself," she said. "That's why I did it."
Today, Jill is married and has lost 30 more pounds and feels that she has a new level of confidence and maturity.
She says a reason for her additional weight loss is that a 2009 complication from the gastric bypass made her so sick she was unable to eat, had 12 surgeries in a year, and had to have a PICC line and home IV therapy.
Despite the serious medical complications, Jill says she made the right decision to get gastric bypass surgery. "A lot of people disagree with me, but even if I knew that I would have been sick in all this, I still would have made the decision to have the surgery. Because my life where I am now, I'm so happy and so content, and I have an amazing husband which I don't believe I would have had."
Jill is happy, she says, because her relationship with her parents has never been better, and her husband is not judgmental about her weight. "My husband thinks I am the most beautiful thing ever," she says. "And I know that if I was to gain 50 pounds he would love me just as much as he loves me right now."
Kirk says he received his share of angry emails after his time on The Oprah Show. He says people perceived his treatment of Jill as him being shallow and unloving. He admits that it may have been somewhat shallow, but he says he did it out of love. "I still love my daughter. I don't know if I can say that I love her more," he says. "I knew if Jill would get herself fit, lose weight, she would have an incredibly happy life."
In 1990, The Oprah Show focused on the plight of children in crisis. Viewers were especially moved by Treveles, a young boy living in extreme rural poverty in Sugar Ditch, Mississippi. Treveles described his life in Sugar Ditch as one without bathrooms or running water, with roaches and rats in the house, and going to bed hungry. Despite these hard conditions, Treveles dreamed of getting a job so he could go to college.
Watching the show that day in Atlanta, viewer Clayton was moved by Treveles' story. "When I saw his face, I saw sadness," Clayton says. "Tears came from my eyes. People shouldn't live this way."
Clayton contacted Oprah Show producers and managed to find Treveles and his mother. Over the years, Clayton did his best to show Treveles another side of life. He bought Treveles' school supplies, took him on trips and tutored him in reading.
Twenty-one years after Treveles appeared on The Oprah Show, he and Clayton still have a strong bond. Treveles says Clayton's intervention changed his life. "When he reached out to me, that really touched my heart that somebody cared enough for me in order to help me," he says.
Today, Treveles is married with two children, works in a bank and attends college part time as a business management major. He also mentors inner-city youth.
Treveles says he has something to tell Clayton, the positive male role model in his life. "Thank you for reaching out to me, helping me, being a mentor to me and helping me be the man I am today."
"You're welcome," Clayton says.
It took until the 24th season, but in February 2010, The Oprah Show experienced another first: An audience member named Lori went into labor and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance.
Today, Lori and 1-year-old Justin are back at Harpo Studios! Lori says her labor was unexpected because she wasn't due for three months, but Justin was born minutes after she got to the hospital. Because it was such a premature delivery, Justin and Lori had to stay in the hospital for four weeks. Yet, besides asthma—which doctors say he will grow out of, hopefully—Lori says Justin is a healthy baby. "He's perfect," she says.