First American Face-Transplant Patient Shows Off Her New Look

By Eliza Strickland | May 6, 2009 10:17 am

face transplantThe first U.S. patient to receive a face transplant came forward yesterday to show off the results and to praise the doctors and the unnamed donor who made it possible. The 46-year-old Connie Culp underwent a 22-hour surgery in December to receive her new face. Her expressions are still a bit wooden, but she can talk, smile, smell and taste her food again. Her speech is at times a little tough to understand. Her face is bloated and squarish. Her skin droops in big folds that doctors plan to pare away as her circulation improves and her nerves grow, animating her new muscles. But Culp had nothing but praise for those who made her new face possible [AP].

Culp was severely disfigured by a shotgun blast to the face that left only her upper eyelids, forehead, lower lip, and chin intact. News reports prior to her surgery say she was shot by her husband in an apparent murder-suicide attempt in 2004. He also survived and is serving a seven-year prison sentence. In the years before the transplant, Ms. Culp had 30 different reconstructive surgeries, but none effectively restored the lost functionality [The Wall Street Journal]. She was unable to breathe unaided, eat solid food, smell, or smile.

Then, on December 10, Dr. Maria Siemionow led a team of doctors who replaced 80 percent of Culp’s face with bone, muscles, nerves, skin and blood vessels from another woman who had just died. It was the fourth face transplant in the world, though the others were not as extensive [AP]. Culp will take immune-suppressing drugs for the rest of her life to prevent her immune system from rejecting the foreign tissue. But so far, she has experienced only one mild rejection episode, Culp’s doctors say, and that was controlled with a single dose of steroid medication.

The operation reflects how doctors are advancing the frontiers of transplant surgery, devising increasingly complex procedures and using them to improve lives, not just to save them [The Wall Street Journal]. Some experts have raised ethical questions about face transplants, arguing that the “life-enhancing” benefits are not worth the risk of a transplant failure in which the body rejects the new face. But Culp’s doctors stress that she regained many basic functions as a result of the surgery, and note that in January she was able to eat solid foods, including her beloved pizza and hamburgers, for the first time in years. “The fact that there has been some recovery of function is important,” said Eric Kodish, chairman of bioethics at the clinic. “This is not cosmetic surgery in any sense of the word” [The Wall Street Journal].

Related Content:
80beats: First American Face Transplant Is Successful (So Far)
80beats: Bear Attack Victim Gets Successful Face Transplant

Image: Cleveland Clinic

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
MORE ABOUT: surgery, transplants
  • Jumblepudding

    If this patient continues to improve, I’d gladly donate my face for a procedure like this, if it’s in any shape for donation when I die. Just put a good photo on my casket.

  • Brianna

    her face looks a whole lot better cuhs that was SCARY!!!!!!!!

  • MAR

    What a wonderful outcome!

  • Danorock

    Seven years for a shotgun blast to the face? Hmmm. That just doesn’t seem to fit the crime. If it was a murder/suicide attempt, couldn’t the prosecutors tack on additional charges in order to make the sentence a little heavier?

  • Dave in Calif

    To bad he survived.

  • Mary Rex

    Do any of us appreciate our faces enough? Just being able to have pizza again must be wonderful. Being able to talk, smile, smell and taste will mean more to me now…no more worrying about wrinkles! Best wishes to you Connie…you look beautiful!

  • danielle scott

    i really feel bad for the lady hop she feels better and do well

  • danielle scott

    yu look so beautiful with the both of yur faces…..

  • CurtCurtis

    I just saw Ms. Culp being interveiwed on ‘Nightline’ I have never heard such faith and forgivness in all my life. I am sure Jesus would have used the words he used in scripture for Ms. Culp when he said, “I have not found so great faith, no no (even) in Israel.” MATT.8:10 God bless this women of God.

  • angela

    keep your beautiful eyes focused on christ,he will never let you down!he can fill every void and broken wishes and i wlill keep you in my look awesome!!!!!!!

  • Christina Viering

    This is truly a miracle for Ms. Culp. It is amazing she has been able to gain so much back that had been destroyed.

  • Marisa :)

    Congratulations to her! She was lucky to survive, and now she can enjoy the little things we all take for granted, although I know most feel lucky, I can only wish her the most happiness in the future!

  • http://TwoSistersArtandSoul Lisette Root

    This type of reconstructive surgery is bordering on a miracle. It is wonderful to see humans working so hard to help each other, it gives me hope for the future of humanity.

  • barbara

    Her husband only got seven years?!

  • Dan K.

    This IS a great time to be alive.

  • gbdgf

    she to dam lucky

  • Anu

    Hats off to Dr. Maria and her team really they made someones life beautifull both by appearance and also mentally….
    really gr8 job docs……….

  • louisvuitton78

    What’s Happening i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I have found It absolutely useful and it has aided me out loads. I hope to contribute & help other users like its aided me. Good job.

  • cosmetic surgery melbourne

    People born with deformities or cause by accident can have the chance to live like everyone else since there are ways to correct their problem. There are so many possibilities that a cosmetic surgery can offer if used properly.


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