Culp was 40 when her husband Thomas shot her at close range with a shotgun before turning the gun on himself. Both survived. He went to prison for seven years, while Connie was left on the brink of death. The blast shattered the bones in her face, leaving a gaping hole where her nose once was. It destroyed her nose, cheeks, the roof of her mouth, and one eye. Hundreds of fragments of shotgun pellets and bone splinters were embedded in her face. Only her upper eyelids, forehead, lower lip and chin were left intact.
After undergoing 30 operations to fix her face, Culp was left left unable to eat solid food, breathe on her own, or smell. Doctors took bones from her ribs to fashion new cheekbones, and made an upper jaw from one of her leg bones. Numerous skin grafts taken from her thighs covered over the wounds, but until last year, Culp was forced to live with a face that drew stares and cruel comments.
In December, 2008, a team of surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic performed the first full facial transplant in America. It took 22 hours, but when they were done, Culp had a face that was 80% new, made from the bone, muscles, nerves, skin and blood vessels from another woman who had just died.
Until recently, Culp had remained anonymous, known only to the public as the face transplant recipient. On Tuesday, Culp revealed her identity, and spoke at the clinic in Ohio. She began, "I guess I'm the one you came to see today," before humbly adding, "I think it's more important that you focus on the donor family that made it so I could have this person's face." Culp said she wants to help raise awareness and acceptance for those who have suffered disfiguring accidents. "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."
Recipient of Face Transplant Shares Her Story And Results [New York Times]
Face Transplant Woman Can Eat, Smell And Breathe Again [Guardian]
Face Transplant Patient's New Life [Daily Express]