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Monday, December 20, 2010

First U.S. Face Transplant Donor Revealed

Revealed, the mother who gave this woman a new face: 

Family lifts veil on identity of first U.S. face transplant donor 

Last updated at 7:10 PM on 20th December 2010

The identity of the woman who became America's first face transplant donor has been revealed by her family.

Mother-of-three Anna Kasper died of a heart attack in December, 2008.

This weekend the woman who received her face - Connie Culp, 47 - had an emotional reunion with Mrs Kasper's husband Ron and her children.

Mrs Culp, 47, spent about 90 minutes on Saturday with Mrs Kasper's family. 

Anna Kasper and Connie Culp
Anna Kasper and Connie Culp

Perfect match: Anna Kasper, left, died of a heart attack in 2008. Her face was donated to Connie Culp, right, shown after the transplant in 2008

From her home in southeast Ohio, Mrs Culp later told The Plain Dealer newspaper of Cleveland the get-together was 'awesome' after some initially awkward moments.

Mrs Kasper's 23-year-old daughter, Becky Kasper, said that she could see Ms Culp's resemblance to her mother - in her nose.

Prior life: Mrs Culp as she was before her husband blasted her in the face with a shotgun from eight feet away

Prior life: Mrs Culp as she was before her husband blasted her in the face with a shotgun from eight feet away

And the Kasper family agreed that Mrs Culp was the perfect recipient for their mother's face, saying she has the same love of life and personality as the loved one they lost.

The family agreed to donate Mrs Kasper's face in December 2008, the day after she stepped onto their back porch, lit up a cigarette and collapsed of a heart attack.

Paramedics revived her but tests showed the 44-year-old woman was brain dead.

The family immediately agreed to donate all her organs, including her heart, kidneys, her liver and her eyes.

'She'd give her time. She'd give her money. She gave a lot of things she didn't have to other people,' her husband said.

Then a donation specialist from the Cleveland Clinic called the house to ask for her face.

Within minutes, the family agreed there was only one thing to do.

'Everything fit together so well,' Mr Kasper said.

Mrs Kasper and Mrs Culp were just 14 months apart in age, had the same skin tone, same blood type and both had children and a new grandchild.

'We knew that Anna wished to be cremated, so there wasn't going to be an open casket,' Mr Kasper said.

'And that Anna was already an organ donor. And that Anna was a match. And for there to be a match was a miracle in itself.'

Mrs Culp, a mother-of-two, suffered horrific injuries in September 2004 when her husband shot her in the face from eight feet away.

Culp in partial profile before and after she had 80 percent face transplanted. She has since had some extra skin removed

Culp in partial profile before and after she had 80 percent face transplanted. She has since had some extra skin removed

The blast shattered her nose, cheeks, the roof of her mouth and an eye, leaving a gaping hole.

Hundreds of fragments of shotgun pellets and bone splinters were embedded in her face and after emergency surgery she could only breathe by having a tube inserted in her windpipe.

More than four years later, during which time she rarely left home, she received the first face transplant in the U.S.

In a 22-hour operation, surgeons transplanted 80 per cent of Mrs Culp's face using facial tissue from Mrs Kasper, placed on Mrs Culp's face like a mask.

Mrs Culp received skin and muscle, veins and arteries, teeth and bone .

Almost her entire face was replaced, except for the forehead, upper eyelids, lower lip and chin.

She can now talk, smile, smell and taste her food again and can live alone

More than 50 people benefited from Mrs Kasper's donated organs and tissue.

'My mom would say, "Hell if I can't use it and somebody else can, they can have it",' daughter Becky said.


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