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Nations First Face Transplant Patient Speaks Out

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Nations First Face Transplant Patient Speaks Out

Connie Culp underwent a full face transplant in 2008, but until now, her identity were kept secret…

The nation’s first face transplant patient braved the press to finally speak out about her ordeal. Connie Culp, 46, was badly disfigured in a incident that occurred in 2004. Later in 2008, she became the first patient in the U.S to undergo a full face transplant.

Until Tuesday, Culp’s identity and how she came to be disfigured were a secret (click here to read our original article The Nations First Face Transplant Patient>>>). But at a press conference at Cleveland Clinic where the 22-hour procedure was carried out, Culp revealed her identity to expressed her praise and gratitude for those who the made the transplant possible.

Starting off her speech, Culp said:

“I guess I’m the one you came to see today…

“[But] I think it’s more important that you focus on the donor family that made it so I could have this person’s face.”

Culp’s face is still bloated and expressions are still a little stiff, but she can talk, smile and taste her food again. Her speech can, at times be difficult to understand, but as her circulation improves and her nerves grow back, her speech and features should also develop.

Connie Culp The Nations First Transplant Patient

Culp’s husband, Thomas shot her in 2004, then tried to kill himself. Unsuccessful at suicide he was jailed for 7 years.

Culp was left clinging to life after the blast shattered her nose, cheeks, the roof of her mouth and an eye. Hundreds of fragments of shotgun pellet and bone splinters were embedded in her face, and she needed a tube into her windpipe to breathe.

After 30 operations in which doctors took parts of her ribs to make cheekbones and fashioned an upper jaw from one of her leg bones, Culp was still unable to eat solid food, breathe on her own, or smell.

Then on Dec. 10, in a 22-hour operation, 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.

No information has been released about the donor or how she died, but her family members were moved when they saw before-and-after pictures of Culp, Siemionow said.

Culp said she wants 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….

“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.”

Before the incident, Culp ran a painting and contracting business with her husband, and she did everything from hanging dry wall to a little plumbing.

Connie Culp Before The Incident

Culp left the hospital Feb. 5 and has returned periodically for follow-up care. During her recovery she has suffered only one mild rejection that was controlled with a does of steroid medicines. To reduce the changes of rejection, Culp must take immune-suppressing drugs for the rest of her life, but her dosage has been greatly reduced.

The clinic expects to absorb the cost of the transplant because it was experimental, doctors said. Siemionow estimated it at $250,000 to $300,000. That is less than the $1 million that other surgeons estimate it costs them to treat other severely disfigured people through dozens of separate operations, she said.

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