After a shotgun injury to her face, left, and as she appears after her face transplant surgery.
Five years ago, a shotgun blast left a ghastly hole where the middle of Connie Culp’s face had been. Five months ago, she received a new face from a dead woman.
Ms. Culp stepped forward on Tuesday to show the results of the nation’s first face transplant. Her new look was far from the puckered, noseless sight that had made children run away in horror.
Ms. Culp’s expressions are still a bit wooden, but she can talk, smile, smell and taste food again. Her speech is at times difficult to understand. Her face is bloated and squarish, and her skin droops in folds that doctors plan to pare away as her circulation improves and her nerves grow, animating new muscles. But she had nothing but praise for those who made her new face possible.
“I guess I’m the one you came to see today,” Ms. Culp, 46, said at a news conference at the Cleveland Clinic, where the groundbreaking operation was performed. But, she said, “I think it’s more important that you focus on the donor family that made it so I could have this person’s face.”
Connie Culp, who received the first face transplant in the United States, at a news conference
Until Tuesday, Ms. Culp’s identity and how she came to be disfigured were a secret.
Ms. Culp’s husband, Thomas, shot her in 2004, then turned the gun on himself. He went to prison for seven years. She was left clinging to life.
The blast shattered her nose and cheeks, the roof of her mouth and an eye. Hundreds of fragments of shotgun pellet and bone splinters were embedded in her face. She needed a tube in her windpipe to breathe. Only her upper eyelids, forehead, lower lip and chin were left. She endured 30 operations to try to fix her face.
Ms. Culp said she wanted to help foster acceptance of those who have suffered burns and other disfiguring injuries.
“When somebody has a disfigurement and don’t look as pretty as you do, don’t judge them because you never know what happened to them,” she said. “Don’t judge people who don’t look the same as you do. Because you never know. One day it might be all taken away.”