CLEVELAND, Ohio (AP/KCAU) – The recipient of the first partial face transplant in the U.S. has died almost a dozen years after the groundbreaking operation.
The Cleveland Clinic said Saturday that Connie Culp, 57, died Wednesday at the clinic of complications from an infection unrelated to her transplant.
Her surgery had been performed at the clinic in 2008. Dr. Frank Papay is chair of Cleveland Clinic’s dermatology and plastic surgery institute and was on her surgery team. He said in a statement that “her strength was evident in the fact that she had been the longest-living face transplant patient to date.”
Culp’s husband shot her in the face in 2004 in a failed murder-suicide attempt for which he was imprisoned for seven years. The blast destroyed her nose, shattered her cheeks and shut off most of her vision. Her features were so gnarled that children ran away from her and called her a monster, The Associated Press previously reported.
Culp underwent 30 operations 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.
In December 2008, Dr. Maria Siemionow led a team of doctors in a 22-hour operation to replace 80% of Culp’s face with bone, muscles, nerves, skin, and blood vessels from a donor.
Hers was the fourth face transplant in the world, though the others were not as extensive.
After that surgery, Culp could talk, smile, smell and taste her food again.
Since the incident, Culp made several television appearances and became an advocate for organ donation.