Connie Culp, the first face transplant recipient in the United States, has died, according to the Cleveland Clinic, which performed the operation.
The Cleveland Clinic confirmed the news on Twitter Friday saying, “We are saddened by the loss of Connie Culp,” which they described as “an inspiration to all of us at Cleveland Clinic.”
She was 57 years old.
The exact cause of death has not been revealed, but Culp had already been in the hospital for several days, NBC-affiliated WKYC reported in Cleveland, Ohio.
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“Connie was an incredibly courageous and dynamic woman and an inspiration to many. Her strength was evident in the fact that she had been the oldest facial transplant patient to date, ”Dr. Frank Papay, president of the Cleveland Clinic’s Dermatology and Plastic Institute of Surgery, said in a statement. “She was a great pioneer and her decision to undergo the sometimes daunting procedure is a lasting gift to all of humanity. “
Culp arrived at the Cleveland Clinic after her then-husband shot him in the face before turning the gun on himself in 2004. He survived and was sent to jail for seven years.
In 2008, doctors began a 22-hour procedure to replace 80% of Culp’s face with that of a deceased donor. Prior to receiving the transplant, Culp had already undergone nearly 30 other corrective surgeries.
Although the transplant could never restore Culp’s original appearance, it helped her regain her senses after the shotgun blast shattered her nose, cheeks, the roof of her mouth, and one eye. .
In 2009, Culp said the smell of soap made him realize his new face was working.
After the transplant, Culp devoted years to sharing his story and speaking out against domestic violence, as well as educating and encouraging those who would undergo transplant surgeries.
Surgeon Dr. Maria Siemionow said her journey in Culp’s recovery inspired her research on reducing transplant rejection.
“To think of Connie is to think of someone who isn’t giving up, and I won’t give up,” she told WKYC. “We connect donor and recipient bone marrow cells to support facial transplantation and other organ transplants to induce tolerance and reduce the need for lifelong immunosuppression,”