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

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers 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.
NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planeti
X
George Putic
March 04, 2015 8:51 PM
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More