Face transplant recipient Connie Culp dead at 57

Connie Culp, shown here in a combination photo released by the Cleveland Clinic in May 2009, died Thursday at the age of 57. She was the first successful face transplant recipient. Photo courtesy of Cleveland Clinic

Aug. 1 (UPI) — Connie Culp, the first face-transplant recipient in the United States, has died, according to the clinic that performed the surgery. She was 57.

The Cleveland Clinic announced Culp’s death on Twitter Friday.

Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman Andrea Pacetti told CNN Culp died of complications from an infection unrelated to her transplant.

“Connie was an incredibly brave, vibrant woman and an inspiration to many,” Dr. Frank Papay, chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Dermatology and Plastic Surgery Institute, who was part of Connie’s surgical team, said in a statement. “She was a great pioneer and her decision to undergo a sometimes daunting procedure is an enduring gift for all of humanity.”

Culp was shot by her then-husband in 2004. The incident caused her to lose the middle portion of her face and left her partially blind, unable to smell and speak, and reliant on a surgical opening in her neck to breathe.

In 2008 she underwent a 22-hour surgery in which the face of a deceased donor was shaped and fitted to Culp — the first near-total face transplant in the country.

In 2010 she received a followup procedure to tighten her face and remove extra skin that hung from her cheeks and chin after the transplant surgery.

Doctors emphasized that the surgery was not cosmetic, but was intended to restore basic functions. They connected layers of tissue, bone, muscle and blood vessels, nerve grafts, arteries and veins, filling in the missing parts of her face.

Image: Cleveland Clinic Twitter

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