Connie Culp, America’s first partial face transplant patient, has died at the age of 57. Allegedly, Ms. Culp died from infections that are unrelated to her face transplant procedure. She was the first American, the fourth person in the world, to ever receive such a procedure. Her face transplant procedure, which took roughly 23-hours in total, was one of the most complex of its kind in 2008.
Being the first of her kind in the US, Connie Culp was an inspiration. She was inspiring not only for individuals that are about to get their face transplant procedures but also for doctors who aspire to improve research and technology for such complex procedures. Her bravery became a beacon of hope for many. What is interesting about Connie is that she would’ve been the longest living transplant patient to date. In fact, before her death, she was the longest living transplant patient since the early 2000s.
Furthermore, her condition became a good baseline for research on individuals who receive face transplants. This is not only for the medical aspect but for the psychological aspect as well. Doctors need to be able to understand how the body reacts to such a transplant, to further improve methods and treatment for future procedures. Also, Doctors need to learn how to help patients mentally and emotionally cope with dealing with a new face every day. This also includes how the community will be able to cope – the family, the neighborhood, or anyone around the donor and the recipient.
How did Connie lose her face and gain a new one?
A failed murder-suicide has cost Connie Culp her face, in what she thought would be forever. It was in 2004 when Connie Culp’s husband, Thomas Culp, shot her in the face before attempting suicide. Both of them survived but Connie received a much graver injury that her husband. She lost most of her face and had to undergo more than 30 operations in the four years following her husband’s attack.
It was also in 2004 when the Cleveland Clinic became the first in the country to approve face transplant trials on cadavers. A year later, with much learning and success on cadavers, the Cleveland Clinic was ready to pilot on living specimens. It was in 2005 when Cleveland Clinic became the first hospital in the US to approve face transplants.
Connie Culp became their first-ever patient, in 2008. The Cleveland Clinic team was lead by Maria Siemionow. Plastic surgeons Robert Lohman, Dan Alam, Steven Bernard, Mark Hendrickson, and Francis Papay were also a part of Siemionow’s team. It must be noted that Connie Culp’s procedure may the fourth of its kind in the world, but it is the world’s first near-total face transplant.
Famous Face Transplants in the World
Face transplants have improved through the years and many discoveries were made since the first time a face transplant was done in 2005.
Isabelle Dinoire: First Ever Face Transplant
She was the first-ever partial face transplant recipient in the entire world. It is alleged that she lost her mouth, her nose, a part of her cheeks and chin, after being mauled by her pet labrador. Her transplant was done by Bernard Devauchelle and Jean-Michel Dubernard at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Nord in France. It was only her mouth, nose, and cheek area that was transplanted onto her face. All other parts of her face above the nose are intact. More than a few years later, the scars from her transplant were not prominent at all. She was also able to control her mouth and chin without much difficulty. Unfortunately, she died in 2016 after suffering from cancer allegedly caused by her anti-rejection medication.
Katie Stubblefield: Youngest Recipient
She is the youngest face transplant recipient in the world and Cleveland Clinic’s third transplant patient. An injury caused by attempted suicide, the young Katie is lucky she survived with not a single brain damage. However, she lost bone, muscle, and skin on her face. Despite reconstructive surgery, doctors were unable to give her a fully functional face. She believes that her face transplant gave her a second chance at life.
Dallas Wiens: First Full Face Transplant
He is America’s first-ever full face transplant recipient. He lost almost all of his face, his sense of smell, and sight after being burned by a high voltage wire in 2008. His operation was done in 2011 lead by Bohdan Pomahac at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He was able to regain his sense of smell and was able to talk with ease, but his sight was never recovered.
Robert Chelsea: Oldest Recipient
The oldest patient to ever receive a full face transplant in the US is Robert Chelsea. He suffered severe injuries after his car was hit by a drunk driver in 2013. More than 60% of his body was badly burned and injured. The team that operated on Robert Chelsea was also Bohdan Pomahac of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Chelsea is also notably the first African American to ever receive a full face transplant.