A new face and a new life

Five years ago, a shotgun blast left a ghastly hole where the middle of her face had been. Five months ago, she received a new face from a dead woman.

Connie Culp - top left

CLEVELAND — Five years ago, a shotgun blast left a ghastly hole where the middle of her face had been. Five months ago, she received a new face from a dead woman.

Connie Culp stepped forward Tuesday to show off the results of the first face transplant in the U.S., and her new look was a far cry from the puckered, noseless sight that made children run away in horror.

Culp’s 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, and 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.

“I guess I’m the one you came to see today,” the 46-year-old Ohio woman said at a news conference at the Cleveland Clinic, where the groundbreaking operation was performed. 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.”

Up until Tuesday, Culp’s identity and how she came to be disfigured were a secret.

Culp’s husband, Thomas, shot her in 2004, then turned the gun on himself. He went to prison for seven years. 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. Only her upper eyelids, forehead, lower lip and chin were left.

A surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Risal Djohan, got a look at her injuries two months later. “He told me he didn’t think, he wasn’t sure, if he could fix me, but he’d try,” Culp recalled.

She endured 30 operations to try to fix her face. Doctors took parts of her ribs to make cheekbones and fashioned an upper jaw from one of her leg bones. She had countless skin grafts from her thighs. Still, she was left unable to eat solid food, breathe on her own or smell.

On Dec. 10, in a 22-hour operation, Dr. Maria Siemionow led a team of doctors who replaced 80 per cent 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.

In January, Culp was able to eat pizza, chicken and hamburgers for the first time in years. She loves to have cookies with a cup of coffee, Siemionow said.

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,” 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.”

Just Posted

Rimbey-area landowner believes earthquake damaged his electricity supply

Underground line was damaged at same time quake hit, says landowner

Open call for musicians to play Ross Street Patio Parties in Red Deer

The City of Red Deer is inviting musicians from various different cultural… Continue reading

Rocky Mountain House citizens recognized in awards show

Mayor’s Recognition Awards handed out in ceremony last Friday

Red Deer monitoring creeks during spring melt

Residents advised to use common sense when approaching ice

Businesses worry about pricey budget promises

Alberta businesses are bracing for expensive promises the federal and provincial governments… Continue reading

WATCH: Celebrating francophone Canadians at the 10th annual Red Deer Winter Carnival

The event was hosted by the Red Deer region of the French-Canadian Association of Alberta Saturday

Family: Time to shed winter clothes and inhibitions

It has been a long, crazy cold winter. But, if the thermometer… Continue reading

Chelsea Carey rink registers two wins at world women’s curling event

SILKEBORG, Denmark — Canada’s Chelsea Carey rebounded nicely Sunday at the world… Continue reading

Canadian Bianca Andreescu has her first WTA title, winning BNP Paribas Open

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Canadian Bianca Andreescu has her first WTA title.… Continue reading

‘Captain Marvel’ soars even higher with stellar 2nd weekend

LOS ANGELES — “Captain Marvel” has continued to dominate the global box… Continue reading

Budget to focus on affordable housing changes on supply, demand, regulation

OTTAWA — The Trudeau government will take steps in Tuesday’s federal budget… Continue reading

Kenney lieutenant denies running ‘puppet’ candidate in party leadership race

EDMONTON — The staffer at the centre of a spreading scandal over… Continue reading

RCMP find ammunition, machete after searching for ATV reported stolen

FROG LAKE, Alta. — Police say they found 600 rounds of ammunition… Continue reading

Most Read