Wednesday, May 06, 2009

I AM NOT A MONSTER by LeRoy More Hole
Face transplant recipient: 'I'm not a monster'When Connie Culp heard a little kid call her a monster because of the shotgun blast that left her face horribly disfigured, she pulled out her driver's license to show the child what she used to look like. Years later, as the nation's first face transplant recipient, she's stepped forward to show the rest of the world what she looks like now. Her expressions are still a bit wooden, but she can talk, smile, smell and taste her food again. Her speech is at times a little tough to understood. Her face is bloated and squarish. Her skin droops in big folds that doctors plan to pare away as her circulation improves and her nerves grow, animating her new muscles. Culp's husband, Thomas, shot her in 2004, then turned the gun on himself. He went to prison for seven years. His wife was left clinging to life. The blast shattered her nose, cheeks, the roof of her mouth and an eye. Hundreds of fragments of shotgun pellet and bone splinters were embedded in her face. She needed a tube into her windpipe to breathe. Only her upper eyelids, forehead, lower lip and chin were left. A plastic surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Risal Djohan, got a look at her injuries two months later. "He told me he didn't think, he wasn't sure, if he could fix me, but he'd try," Culp recalled. In a 22-hour operation, Dr. Maria Siemionow led a team of doctors who replaced 80 percent of Culp's face with bone, muscles, nerves, skin and blood vessels from another woman who had just died. It was the fourth face transplant in the world, though the others were not as extensive. "Here I am, five years later. I got me my nose," Culp said of Djohan, laughing. In January, she was able to eat pizza, chicken and hamburgers for the first time in years.-MARILYNN MARCHIONE AP

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