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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As the tumult in the Middle East distracts Obama, shifting American focus eastward appears threatened 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.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid