New Hampshire woman is first American to undergo two full face transplants

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Carmen Blandin Tarleton became the first American to ever receive a second full face transplant when she underwent a 20-hour surgery at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital last month, according to an Associated Press report.

“The pain I had is gone,” she told AP about the second face transplant. “It’s a new chapter in my life. I’ve been waiting for almost a year. I’m really happy. It’s what I needed. I got a great match.”

Tarleton traveled a hard road to get to this point. In 2007, her estranged husband broke into her Vermont home and doused her in industrial-strength lye, burning 80% of her body. Following the horrific attack, she was put into a medically-induced coma and underwent 38 surgeries over the course of three months. She then had 17 additional surgeries over a five-year period, including some to restore her eyesight. She was approved for her first full face transplant in 2011 after a rigorous evaluation, and the surgery happened in 2013 when a suitable donor was identified.

Face transplant recipient Carmen Blandin Tarleton speaks at a news conference at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts May 1, 2013.

Face transplant recipient Carmen Blandin Tarleton speaks at a news conference at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts May 1, 2013.

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“I feel great appreciation and gratitude for the tremendous gift that I’ve been given,” she said after the first face transplant. “This greatly improves my quality of life and physical comfort level.”

The first operation was a success for six years, but then it started failing. The Associated Press reports that she started experiencing tightness, pain and loss of blood flow, which prompted her to seek out a second transplant last October.

Both procedures were done at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which describes itself as “a world leader in promoting and performing this lifegiving procedure.”

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“We describe face transplant surgery as a life-giving procedure because it has the potential to dramatically improve, i.e., restore, both a patient’s mental and physical health,” the hospital writes. “Conventional facial reconstruction methods, which are always considered first, do not tend to provide optimal results for patients with extensive facial deformities. Face transplant surgery, however, has the potential to deliver these desired functional and aesthetic benefits.”

In this July 2020, photo released by Brigham and Women's Hospital, members of the transplant anesthesiology team, Drs. Kamen V. Vlassakov and Lindsay Wahl lead Carmen Blandin Tarleton to the operating room for her second face transplant at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

In this July 2020, photo released by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, members of the transplant anesthesiology team, Drs. Kamen V. Vlassakov and Lindsay Wahl lead Carmen Blandin Tarleton to the operating room for her second face transplant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Tarleton said she is “elated” with the second transplant, but it will take a bit of time to get used to.

“It is strange. I am not going to lie,” she said. “I’ll have to get used to it. My sister will have to get used to it. It takes a while for my friends and family to get used to what I look like now.”

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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