Connie Culp, First Face Transplant Recipient in U.S., Dies at 57

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Connie Culp, the primary affected person within the United States to obtain a face transplant, died on Wednesday on the Cleveland Clinic, which had carried out her process in 2008. She was 57.

She died of problems from an an infection that was unrelated to her transplant, a spokeswoman for the hospital mentioned. The clinic confirmed Ms. Culp’s loss of life on Twitter.

Ms. Culp was the longest-living face transplant affected person on the planet, the spokeswoman mentioned.

“She was a great pioneer and her decision to undergo a sometimes-daunting procedure is an enduring gift for all of humanity,” mentioned Dr. Frank Papay, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic’s Dermatology and Plastic Surgery Institute.

Dr. Papay was a part of the surgical workforce that carried out Ms. Culp’s 23-hour operation in 2008, which changed her broken face with that of a just lately deceased girl.

It was essentially the most intensive and complex face transplant on the time. Three face transplants had been completed earlier than Ms. Culp’s: two in France and one in China.

A Cleveland Clinic ethics committee had permitted such a process solely in 2004, the primary such committee to take action. Dr. Eric Kodish, the then chairman of the clinic’s bioethics division, advised The New York Times after the transplant that Ms. Culp had undergone psychological testing earlier than the surgical procedure.

She was requested whether or not it was she or a member of the family who needed the transplant, and about how she felt about residing with the face from a lifeless particular person, Dr. Kodish mentioned.

Ms. Culp was shot by her husband, Thomas Culp, in 2004, damaging most of her face and leaving her unable to breathe or eat on her personal. Her husband, with whom she had a common-law marriage, based on The Plain Dealer, was sentenced to seven years in jail for aggravated tried homicide and launched in 2011.

After capturing his spouse, Mr. Culp turned the shotgun on himself however solely misplaced a number of enamel and among the imaginative and prescient in his left eye. He nonetheless seemed the identical, Ms. Culp advised The Plain Dealer.

She mentioned she had forgiven her husband. “I still love my husband,” she advised “Good Morning America” in 2009. “I forgave him the day he did it. I have to.”

Around 40 such surgical procedures have been completed worldwide since Ms. Culp’s, mentioned Dr. Thomas Romo III, director of facial plastic and reconstructive surgical procedure at Lenox Hill Hospital and Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital.

Her process was instantly profitable and Ms. Culp’s physique didn’t reject the transplant, although she wanted to take anti-rejection medication for the remainder of her life as a result of her physique may have rejected the transplant at any time. The medication suppress a affected person’s immune system to stop it from rejecting the transplant but additionally make the particular person extra prone to infections.

Most face transplant procedures are associated to gunshot wounds or accidents involving animals, Dr. Romo mentioned.

Charla Nash, who obtained a full face transplant in 2011 after being mauled by her good friend’s pet chimpanzee in Stamford, Conn., was hospitalized in 2016 after she participated in a trial to find out if transplant sufferers could possibly be weaned off the medication.

Face transplants are extra than simply beauty enhancements for sufferers, Dr. Romo mentioned. After profitable transplants, most sufferers are capable of communicate, eat and in any other case dwell a extra regular life.

If not for the surgical procedure, Ms. Culp wouldn’t have been capable of smile or discuss, Dr. Romo mentioned, including that face transplants can have constructive psychological results for sufferers.

Ms. Culp is “a milestone in medical history, and will be forever,” he mentioned.

She was chosen for the then-experimental surgical procedure due to her optimism and willingness to observe medical orders, based on a 2010 profile in The Plain Dealer.

Ms. Culp and her husband beforehand ran a drywall, portray and wallpapering enterprise earlier than they purchased a restaurant and bar in 2004, the place she usually labored from the early morning till late at evening, The Plain Dealer reported.

She was born on March 26, 1963. Details about survivors weren’t instantly out there.

At a information convention unveiling her new face in 2009, Ms. Culp requested others to be form to individuals with facial disfigurements.

“Don’t judge people who don’t look the same as you do,” she mentioned. “Because you never know. One day it might be all taken away.”

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