Connie Culp was described as a “pioneer” after she became the first person to ever receive a face transplant. Her husband shot her with a shotgun in 2004, disfiguring her. She died Thursday, July 30, 2020 at age 57.
The Cleveland Clinic announced her death on Twitter, calling her a “pioneer.” Her decision to undergo the first face transplant in history was “an enduring gift for all humanity,” doctors said.
Culp was shot by her then-husband, Thomas, who turned the gun on himself in 2004. Both Culp and her husband survived the shooting, and he was sentenced to seven years in prison. A deceased donor, Anna Kasper, gave Culp the gift of a new face after Culp underwent dozens of corrective surgeries. Culp met Kasper’s daughter, Becky Kasper, which was part of an ABC News special.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Connie Culp Became the First Face Transplant Recipient in History After She Was Shot by Her Husband
We are saddened by the loss of Connie Culp, the first face transplant recipient in the U.S.
She was an inspiration to all of us at Cleveland Clinic. pic.twitter.com/gvuJCzf7Jd
— ClevelandClinicNews (@CleClinicNews) July 31, 2020
Connie Culp was the survivor of a brutal act of domestic violence. Her husband, Thomas, shot her in 2004, and then turned the gun on himself. Both Culp and her husband survived. He was sentenced to seven years in prison, NBC reported. Her cause of death has not been released.
Culp first arrived at the Cleveland Clinic for plastic surgery in 2004. She underwent nearly 30 surgeries before the received the nation’s most extensive face transplant in history. In December 2008, doctors began a 22-hour procedure to replace 80 percent of Culp’s face, NBC reported. The donor, Anna Kasper, was deceased.
Culp’s face transplant surgery was the fourth to be performed in the world, but her transplant surgery was more extensive, the Associated Press reported in 2009. In April 2009, doctors at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston performed the nation’s second face transplant on Dallas Wiens, a man who was disfigured in a freak accident. The first face transplant surgery was performed in 2005 in France on Isabelle Dinoire, a woman who had been mauled by her dog.
2. Connie Culp Was the Longest Surviving Face Transplant Patient to Date
Connie Culp, the first person in the US to receive a near-total face transplant, has died, according to the Cleveland Clinic, where the procedure was performed in 2008. She was 57 years old. https://t.co/nHJ2FqZCqN
— CNN (@CNN) August 1, 2020
Connie Culp outlived many people who have undergone face transplant surgeries. The Cleveland Clinic, where her surgery was performed, said she was the longest-living face transplant patient to date.
“Her strength was evident in the fact that she had been the longest-living face transplant patient to date,” said Frank Papay, M.D., chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Dermatology and plastic surgery institute.
Face transplants are risky and extensive procedures reserved for the most severe face trauma, according to the Mayo Clinic. Forty people underwent face transplant surgeries between 2005 and 2017, with the patients ranging in age from 20 to 60. Several people died as a result of the transplant surgeries, either because their bodies rejected the transplant or because they suffered infection following surgery.
“A face transplant may enhance your life, but it is a high-risk procedure,” the Mayo Clinic wrote. “You and your transplant team can’t predict exactly how you will look and how your immune system will respond to the new face. You’ll need to take special medications (immunosuppressants) for the rest of your life to reduce the risk of your body rejecting the transplanted face.”
3. Connie Culp’s Husband Was Sentenced to Seven Years in Prison in the Shooting That Left Her Disfigured
RIP, Connie Culp.
Culp's ex-husband, Thomas Culp shot her in the face w/a shotgun for "talking to another man" and he only got 7 years – he was released in 2011. Connie Culp said she had no contact with him after his release, though her son has. pic.twitter.com/hbzpFvEamN
— BLOOP! (@susiemcdonnell) August 1, 2020
Connie Culp’s husband, Thomas Culp, shot and disfigured her in an act of domestic violence before turning the gun on himself. He was sentenced to seven years in prison and released in 2011. She told ABC News in 2009 that although she was going through a divorce from her husband, she still loved him.
“”I always will [love him.] I mean, I have two kids to him,” Culp said. “But you know what? I cannot be with him anymore.”
She said she had spoken to him briefly on their anniversary, but she wanted to move on and did not want to talk about the attack that shattered her face.
“I won’t let anybody talk about that,” said Culp. “I spent six years thinking about it. And you know what? Now, it’s a new beginning. I have a new face. I’m a new me.”
WKYC reported Culp spent the decade of her life after the transplant sharing her story, speaking out about domestic violence, educating about transplant surgeries and encouraging those who would undergo transplants.
4.Connie Culp Met Becky Kasper on Video, the Daughter of the Donor Who Gave Culp a New Face
Connie Culp met Becky Kasper, the daughter of her deceased donor, several years after her face transplant surgery. Anna Kasper died of a heart attack at age 44 two weeks before Christmas. ABC News captured their meeting on video.
“I’m so glad you did this for me,” Culp said. “What do you say? I mean, thank you’s not strong enough, you know. I thought I was going to walk around like that forever.”
Anna Kasper’s organ donation helped more than 50 people, ABC News reported. Becky Kasper told the news station she received some comfort in knowing her mother helped others in death.
“Grieving is hard and it’s really hard when you lose someone that you love,” she said. “But you really can find so much comfort in knowing that they’re helping someone else. It helps a lot. It really does.”
Anna Kasper’s husband, Ronald Kasper, also spoke to ABC News about the woman whose face gave Culp a new lease on life.
“She was my wife. She was my friend,” he said. “We miss her dearly.”
Anna and Ronald Kasper were married for 20 years. He said his wife would have wanted to make the donation to Culp.
“It was a rather extraordinary request. It was something Anna would have wanted to do,” Ronald Kasper said. “She would have wanted to help Connie.”
5. Connie Culp Was Described As a ‘Pioneer’ Who Gave ‘an Enduring Gift for All Humanity
Connie Culp, the first face transplant recipient in the US, has died, according to the Cleveland Clinic, which performed the surgery. https://t.co/dxwKUY7PYa
— NBC News (@NBCNews) August 1, 2020
Frank Papay, M.D., chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Dermatology and plastic surgery institute, described her as a brave woman and “pioneer” who provided “an enduring gift for all humanity.”
“Connie was an incredibly brave, vibrant woman and an inspiration to many,” Papay said in a statement. “Her strength was evident in the fact that she had been the longest-living face transplant patient to date. 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 with a shotgun, and the blast shattered her nose, cheeks, the roof of her mouth and an eye, the Associated Press reported. The surgery replaced 80 percent of her face with bone, muscles, nerves, skin and blood vessels from a deceased donor, Anna Kasper. Before the transplant, Culp had nearly 30 surgeries. Doctors took parts of her ribs to make cheekbones and sculpted an upper jaw from one of her leg bones. Skin grafts from her thighs were numerous. However, even with the extensive surgeries, she was unable to eat solid food, breathe on her own, or smell.
She said in a news conference a few months after the surgery that she felt great walking down the street. She knew the face transplant was working when her sense of smell began returning. The first thing she smelled was soap.