News / Science & Technology

Face Transplant Recipient Gets New Lease on Life

Face Transplant Recipient Gets New Lease on Lifei
X
September 12, 2013 2:57 PM
Sometimes, people show unbelievable courage in the face of unexpected adversity. Carmen Tarleton is one example. In 2007, her ex-husband threw lye on her, burning her face beyond recognition. Today, with help from science and sheer willpower, Carmen is living a new life. Sarah Zaman, of VOA’s Urdu Service, brings us her story.
Face Transplant Recipient Gets New Lease on Life
Sarah Zaman
Sometimes, people show unbelievable courage in the face of unexpected adversity. Carmen Tarleton is one example. In 2007, her ex-husband threw lye on her, burning her face beyond recognition. Today, with help from science and sheer willpower, she is living a new life.

“They would put these graphic warnings on the TV and I realized the graphic warning was looking at me. And I was just appalled. I couldn’t believe that. And I was a little frustrated because I couldn't see what everyone was talking about,” said Tarleton.

The “graphic” image TV viewers were being warned about was 39-year-old Tarleton’s face… her old face.

In September 2007, a few weeks after her divorce, Tarleton’s ex-husband broke into her house, beat her with a baseball bat and doused her with lye. The attack lasted just a few minutes, but it burned more than 80 percent of her body. When it was over, Carmen was blind and her face was scarred beyond recognition.

“Most of our marriage was good. He was not abusive in any way; not emotionally, verbally or physically, until the night he attacked me,” said Tarleton.
 
For the next three months, she was kept in a medically-induced coma. Doctors at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston performed close to 40 surgeries on her and gave her a new lease on life. But this life came with new challenges.

“I really struggled with being completely blind. I was 39 years old. You never expect that ever, as I didn't. And I was struggling because I had all of these wounds, open wounds, for four years and there were a couple of years where I couldn’t see them and couldn’t see what everyone was talking about,” she said.

But even in her darkest hours, Tarleton did not lose hope.

“I think because I was so wounded and I had lived when I really felt maybe I shouldn't have lived physically. But because I did, I felt there was a big reason, personally for me. The stronger I was, the better I did, the more I was helping other people, just by being myself. Although for the first couple of years it was very difficult,” she said.

Hoping to help others, Tarleton wrote a book detailing her life after the attack.  

She also forgave her attacker, who was now serving a life sentence. Forgiveness, she said, was the only way forward.

Almost four years after the attack, Carmen’s doctor gave her life-changing news.

She had been selected as a candidate for a face transplant. Doctors would remove her scarred face and replace it with a healthy one. But the surgery would be risky. Carmen’s immune system was weak after years of invasive medical treatments and her body might reject the new face… if doctors were even able to find one.

It took nearly a year, but a donor finally became available when 54-year-old Cheryl Righter died of a stroke. Her kidneys, liver and arm tissue had already been donated to four different people. Her daughter Marinda decided to donate her mother’s face, as well.

“I feel that she [my mother] had an agenda. Once she had passed, it was like, I found this strength in my core. This strength…  that I have no idea where it came from, but it was like, ok, I need to make some decisions right now and the face transplant and all, those were big decisions. But also really easy for me to make because of the person that my mother was. She was a helper. She would go out of her way to help anyone in pretty much any situation,” said Marinda Righter.

Last February, in a grueling 17-hour surgery, doctors at Brigham and Women’s Hospital successfully transplanted Cheryl’s face onto Carmen. A few weeks later, Carmen revealed her new face to the world - with Marinda Righter looking on.

“Yesterday, after meeting you Carmen, for the first time, in a long time, I felt overjoyed. I get to feel my mother's skin again, I get to see my mother's freckles, and through you I get to see my mother live on. This is truly a blessing. Thank you,” said Righter.
 
“Well, it wasn't as dramatic as I thought it would be. It just felt really nice and I said ah, this is really great. I look great," said Tarleton.

"I feel good and this is nice, to finally have it over. It was finally over, I had waited a long time. It was such a big gift. A big gift. And it improved my daily life so much, so great,” said Tarleton.

“My new face… you can see the line of my new face and my very white burned skin on the back. Actually, this side is better because it's not so hairy. So prior to this, my whole face was burnt as well,” she said.

So far, Tarleton has undergone more than 60 surgeries. She has regained some vision in one of her eyes and hopes that 80 percent of her facial muscles will someday function normally.

Her story shows how one person can change another’s life forever. For Carmen, though, it also shows how we can control our destiny, if that is what we choose.

“I want people to know that no matter what challenges come into their life, the challenges have come to propel them to a new place. And there is nothing that they can’t overcome and I truly, truly believe that with all my heart," said Tarleton.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
September 13, 2013 12:25 AM
Incredible!!

by: Paul Nevai from: Columbus, Ohio, USA
September 12, 2013 10:03 PM
This story has many of heroes. Carmen, Marinda, the doctors, and everyone else who participated in the operations and in the rehabilitation process. Marinda's generosity is probably the greatest of all. I wish Carmen the best.
In Response

by: Sarah Zaman from: Washington DC
September 17, 2013 2:45 PM
I agree Paul, this story has many heroes and it would have been incomplete without Marinda's generosity. This story reminds me that we have the power to destroy and the power to build...the decision is ours.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs