NEW YORK • Ms Connie Culp, the first patient in the US to receive a face transplant, has died at the Cleveland Clinic which performed her procedure in 2008. She was 57.
She died last Wednesday of complications from an infection that was unrelated to her transplant, a spokesman for the hospital said.
The clinic confirmed Ms Culp’s death on Twitter.
Ms Culp was the longest-living face transplant patient in the world, the spokesman said.
Dr Frank Papay, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic’s Dermatology and Plastic Surgery Institute, said: “She was a great pioneer and her decision to undergo a sometimes daunting procedure is an enduring gift for all of humanity.” Dr Papay was part of the surgical team that performed the 23-hour operation which replaced Ms Culp’s damaged face with that of a recently deceased woman.
It was the most extensive and complicated face transplant at the time. Three face transplants had been done before Ms Culp’s: two in France and one in China.
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 own.
Her husband, with whom she had a common law marriage according to Cleveland newspaper The Plain Dealer, was sentenced to seven years in prison for aggravated attempted murder and released in 2011. After shooting his wife, Mr Culp turned the shotgun on himself, but only lost a few teeth and some of the vision in his left eye.
He still looked the same, Ms Culp told the paper in 2010.
She said she had forgiven her husband. “I still love my husband,” she told Good Morning America in 2009. “I forgave him the day he did it. I have to.”
Dr Thomas Romo, director of facial plastic and reconstructive surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, said around 40 such operations have been done worldwide since Ms Culp’s.
Face transplants are more than just cosmetic improvements for patients, Dr Romo said. After successful transplants, most patients are able to speak, eat and otherwise live a more normal life.
If not for the surgery, Ms Culp would not have been able to smile or talk, he said, adding that face transplants can have positive psychological effects for patients. Ms Culp is “a milestone in medical history and will be forever”.