Page last updated at 09:23 GMT, Wednesday, 6 May 2009 10:23 UK

First US face transplant revealed


Connie Culp talks about her face transplant

The recipient of the first US almost-total face transplant has appeared before the media for the first time.

Connie Culp, a 46-year-old mother-of-two was left without the middle section of her face after her husband shot her in 2004.

Ms Culp, whose identity had been previously withheld, paid tribute to the donor family at a news conference.

Surgeons at a clinic in a Cleveland, Ohio, replaced 80% of Ms Culp's face with that of a dead female donor.

"I guess I'm the one you came to see today, " she told reporters but added that "I think it's more important that you focus on the donor family that made it so I could have this person's face."

The transplant is only the fourth to be carried out. Two operations have been conducted in France and one in China.


Ms Culp recalled that when plastic surgeon Dr Risal Djohan first examined her injuries two months after she had been shot, "he didn't think, he wasn't sure, if he could fix me, but he'd try".

This is a photo of Connie Culp, after an injury to her face, left, and then as she appears now after the operation
The transplant allowed Ms Culp to perform basic functions

"Here I am, five years later...I got me my nose," she told reporters in good humour.

"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," Ms Culp added.

The clinic's director of plastic surgery, Maria Siemionow, said they believed the procedure had changed Ms Culp's life "dramatically".

Ms Culp's injuries had left her without bone support and unable to eat and breathe without a tube in her windpipe.

Eleven surgeons performed the 22-hour operation, which leaves her able her to perform normal functions now.

Dr Siemionow said the operation was the most complex transplant completed to date. Surgeons had to incorporate muscles, nerves, skin and blood vessels from a woman who had recently died.

French transplant

The world's first face transplant took place in France three years ago, on Isabelle Dinoire, a woman who had been mauled by her dog.

Connie Culp before she was shot
Ms Culp (pictured here before the attack) urged people not to judge those with disfigurements

Surgeons used donor tissue to replace her nose, mouth, lips and chin.

Two other such operations have been carried out since then - one on a Chinese farmer and the other on a French man.

After the procedure, all patients have to take medication for the rest of their lives, which suppresses their immune system to prevent the transplanted skin being rejected.

The new face does not look like the donor because its shape is altered by the muscles and bones of the patient's face.

The Frenchwoman who had the first transplant has said she is satisfied with the results.

But some experts warn of possible psychological side-effects which may include remorse, disappointment, or grief and guilt towards the donor.

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