Woman undergoes first face transplant in US

November 25, 2010

Connie Culp survived the unthinkable and is now learning to live with a new face.

Six years ago, her husband pointed a shotgun at her head and pulled the trigger, ripping away 80 percent of her face.

"When you look back, I've come a long way," Culp said.

Connie lost her nose, cheeks, roof of her mouth and one eye.

"You never know what might happen to you," she said.

Connie underwent 30 reconstructive surgeries. Then, at 46, the mother and grandmother, became the first person in the United States to receive a face transplant.

"Sometimes, I still don't believe it's true," she said.

Eight surgeons, 30 support staff, two operating room all worked simultaneously on the opereation Twenty-two hours were "tough and go." Cleveland Clinic plastic surgeon Maria Siemienow meticulously reconnected two major arteries and four veins.

"When the arteries and veins were connected and when the graft just got back to life and pinked up, it was definitely as relief," said Dr. Siemionow, director of plastic surgery research at Cleveland Clinic.

Connie's facial nerves grow one inch each month.

"Now, she smiles, she's very vivid , she jokes. And you can see all the expressions in her face," Dr. Siemionow said.

But who does connie look like?

"You will never look exactly like yourself," said the doctor.

For the rest of her life, Connie will be on anti rejection meds. She says it's a small inconvenience considering what she gained.

"It feels great to go out and not have people look at me because I look strange," she said.

Connie also said she doesn't hate her husband and wants to help other abused women heal.

The donor's family wants to remain anonymous. Connie was only told it was a woman close to her age. Connie has to have one final surgery to tighten her skin.

Dr. Siemienow says she is working on new, safer anti-rejection drugs and is also researching leg transplants.

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