It has been revealed that Connie Culp, who was the first person in the US to receive a partial facial transplant after surviving a gunshot wound to the face, died of an infection.
Culp, 57, died nearly a dozen years after the groundbreaking surgery.
The Cleveland Clinic, where her surgery was performed in 2008, said on Saturday that Culp died at the Ohio clinic on Wednesday from complications from an infection unrelated to her transplant.
A transplant can help recipients resume basic tasks such as breathing, eating and speaking, and it can restore important non-verbal communication by smiling and frowning.
The surgery, which has been performed around the world only a few dozen times, can mean a lifelong struggle to prevent the body from rejecting the implanted organ.
Immunosuppressants that help stop such rejection can leave the person vulnerable to infections and cancers.
Connie Culp, 57, the first American recipient of a partial facial transplant, died Wednesday of an unrelated infection. She was pictured here in 2010, two years after surgery
Culp was seriously injured in 2004 when her husband shot her and then pointed the gun at himself. She is shown here before she was shot, left and right after the transplant
Cleveland Clinic Doctors – (LR) Dr. Risal Djohan, Dr. Daniel Alam, Dr. Francis Papay and Dr. Maria Siemionow – completed the operation on Connie Culp in December 2008
Dr. Frank Papay, president of the Cleveland Clinic Dermatological and Plastic Surgical Institute and part of Culp’s surgical team, called her “an incredibly brave, vibrant woman and an inspiration to many.”
“Her strength was evident in the fact that she had been the longest living face transplant patient to date,” Papay said in a statement. “She was a great pioneer, and her decision to go through a sometimes daunting procedure is a lasting gift to all mankind.”
Culp was left seriously deformed in September 2004 after being shot in the face by her husband, Tom Culp, during a failed suicide attempt.
He shot her from two meters away and shot her nose, cheeks, the roof of her mouth and one eye.
Only her forehead, chin, parts of her eyelids and her lower lip remained intact.
Tom Culp was convicted of an attempted serious murder and was sentenced to only seven years in prison for the shooting.
Her husband Tom Culp (pictured with Connie) shot a gun at her, crushing her nose, cheeks, palate, and her right eye. Her husband spent seven years in prison for the attack
Culp underwent 30 surgeries before undergoing transplant surgery in 2008 in an intensely complicated procedure that took 22 hours in two days
CT scan photo, provided by Cleveland Clinic, of Connie Culp, after she became the first facial transplant patient in the United States due to a facial injury, left and after surgery, right
Culp’s features were so gnarled that children ran away from her and called her a monster.
Culp underwent 30 surgeries to try to fix her face. Doctors took parts of her ribs to make cheekbones and formed an upper jaw from one of her leg bones.
She had numerous skin grafts on her thighs. Still, she was unable to eat solid food, breathe independently, or smell it.
In December 2008, Dr. Maria Siemionow a team of doctors during a 22-hour operation to replace 80% of Culp’s face with the bone, muscles, nerves, skin and blood vessels of a donor, Anna Kasper. It was the fourth face transplant in the world, although the others were not as extensive.
After the surgery, her expressions were a bit woody and her speech was sometimes difficult to understand, but she was able to speak, smile, smell and taste her food again.
Culp underwent the delicate surgery almost 12 years ago. Doctors used 77 square inches of transplanted tissue
In 2011, Siemionow said that Culp had “a normal face” after doctors refined the drooping cheeks and extra skin they purposely left behind to facilitate the control biopsies.
“She’s smiling, she’s perfect. When she jokes, she blinks a little. Her face is lively. You can see emotions, “said Siemionow.
Culp made several TV appearances and became an advocate for organ donation.
Two years after her surgery, Culp met Kasper’s family, the donor, who had died of a heart attack. Culp told The Cleveland Plain Dealer, “They’re just really nice people.”
Kasper’s 23-year-old daughter, Becky Kasper, said she could see part of her mother in Culp, although their bone structures were different.
“I can definitely see the resemblance in the nose,” she said. “I know she is laughing about this, that she is very happy.”