Six years ago Connie Culp's life changed forever when her husband pointed a shotgun at her head and pulled the trigger, ripping away 80 percent of her face.
"When you look back, I've come a long way."
Connie lost her nose, cheeks, roof of her mouth and one eye.
"You never know what might happen to you," she said.
She underwent 30 reconstructive surgeries. Then, at 46, this mother and grandmother, became the first person in the United States to receive a face transplant.
"Sometimes I still don't believe it's true."
Eight surgeons, 30 support staff, two operating rooms-all working simultaneously. 22- hours of touch and go- Cleveland Clinic Plastic Surgeon Maria Siemienow meticulously reconnected two major arteries and four veins.
"When the arteries and veins were connected and when the graft just got back to life and pinked up, it was definitely as relief," said Maria, Siemionow M.D., Ph.D., Director of Plastic Surgery Research.
Her facial nerves grow one inch a month.
"Now she smiles, she's very vivid ...she jokes. And you can see all the expressions in her face," said Maria Siemienow, M.D., Ph.D., Plastic Surgeon Cleveland Clinic.
For the rest of her life she will be on anti rejection meds. Connie says it's a small inconvenience. Considering what she gained.
"It feels great to go out and not have people look at me because I look strange," said Connie.
Connie says she doesn't hate her husband, and wants to help other abused women heal.
Monina Wagner Media Relations Manager Cleveland Clinic Cleveland, OHWagnerm5@ccf.org(216) 444 - 2412