An Ohio woman who was the first US recipient of a near-total face transplant unveiled the results of her surgery which restored key features after she was shot by her husband five years ago.
Connie Culp, 46, who was left without a nose, a palate or lower eyelids following a shotgun blast in 2004, underwent a procedure last December that lasted 22 hours at the Cleveland Clinic in the state of Ohio.
Surgeons transplanted about 80 percent of Culp's face using facial tissue from a dead woman that was placed like a mask atop her own. Almost her entire face was replaced, except for the forehead, upper eyelids, lower lip and chin.
The team of 11 surgeons who performed the operation said Culp, who was missing bone support and had been unable to eat or breathe without a tube in her windpipe, could now perform functions normally.
"We think this ... procedure has changed her life dramatically," Maria Siemionow, the clinic's director of plastic surgery research, told a news conference.
Although the clinic had revealed the surgery in December, Culp's identity and the incident that had disfigured were kept under wraps.
"Well, I guess I'm the one you came to see today," Culp said after being helped up to the podium.
But, she added, "I think it's more important that you focus on the donor family that made it so I could have this person's face."
When Risal Djohan, a plastic surgeon at the clinic, first looked at Culp's injuries two months after she was shot, "he told me he didn't think, he wasn't sure, if he could fix me, but he'd try," the patient recalled.
"Here I am, five years later. He did what he said - I got me my nose," she said with a laugh.
Siemionow said the transplant "was the most complex functional restoration in the world today."
"We have transplanted for the first time in the world the largest scheme of the face, which was combined with the bones, with the entire nose and functional units, including lower eyelids, upper lip and including also her palate" she said.
The world's first partial face transplant was conducted in France in 2005.