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First Recipient of US Face Transplant Speaks

Connie Culp, the recipient of the first US almost-total face transplant spoke to the media for the first time.

The 46-year-old mother of two had the middle section of her face shot off by her husband in 2004. Surgeons in Cleveland, OH, replaced 80 percent of her face with that of a dead female donor in a 22-hour operation, and it seemed that her appearance before the media was in large part to thank the donor's family. The transplant is only the fourth to be carried out.

Because of her injuries, Culp had no bone support and was unable to eat or to breathe without a tube in her windpipe. Surgeons used donor tissue to replace her nose, mouth, lips and chin.

Experts say that face-transplant recipients may feel remorse, grief, and guilt toward the donor, but my first thoughts were about how radically Culp's husband's violence has altered her life. Our faces, for better or worse, are integral to how we're seen and treated in the world. This story reminds me of an autobiography Lucy Grealy wrote about having part of her jaw removed due to cancer. To get a sense of how wrenching her experience was,


Diagnosed with a rare form of jaw cancer at age 9, Lucy Grealy spent the rest of her brief life dealing with reconstructive surgeries (a third of her jaw had to be removed) and a world which seemed to privilege physical beauty above all.

In Autobiography of a Face, Grealy, who went on to attend Sarah Lawrence College and discover a love of poetry (apparent in this lyrical memoir), explores what it meant to have an unideal face in such a world. Although she seemed to come to some kind of peace with her situation, after her final reconstructive surgery, she became addicted to OxyContin, and eventually heroin, and died of a presumed accidental overdose in 2002.

Our best wishes to the brave Connie Culp. With the love of her two kids and family, and her sense of humor — she joked with reporters, "Here I am, five years later . . . I got me my nose" — she's got a new lease on life.


Join The Conversation
Love-and-Sex Love-and-Sex 8 years
I second that, ella!
ella1978 ella1978 8 years
Yay for the Cleveland Clinic. They gave this woman her life back. I hope that she realizes how special it is, and doesn't go back to the loser!
Muirnea Muirnea 8 years
Wow she is very strong and brave...but crazy to ever consider taking him back. He tried to kill her didn't he?????? The dude has problems. O.o
First love doesn't always mean a good love. I hope she doesn't. Ugh.
Love-and-Sex Love-and-Sex 8 years
Whoa, choochoo. That is intense! She might take that monster back after what he did to her?! :oy:
Kudos to Connie for staying positive through her struggle and arriving at a new lease on life. Now...where is the jerk who did this? Still in prison? I certainly hope so.
nancita nancita 8 years
I have had this book sitting on my shelf for a while now. Now I will finally read it.
Chouette4u Chouette4u 8 years
If you watch the video with Connie Clup, it's pretty amazing. Considering she couldn't eat, taste, smell or breathe on her own before, this is some incredible surgery. And from the way she had the guts to speak at the press conference like that, I'd say she's a very strong person as well.
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