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American Woman Has Near-Total Face Transplant

It took nine surgeons 22 hours to transplant 80 percent of a dead woman's face onto a woman who had lost most of hers. The surgery took place in December, but the woman recently made her first public appearance.

This is Connie Culp after having the most complex face transplant surgery to date:

"My name is Connie. I was shot," she explains. "I don't know if everyone knows that, but I was shot."

Culp was shot in the face by her husband who then shot himself. Both survived. He is now in jail. The gunshot shattered her face, decimated her jaw, her cheek, her nose and one eye.

Dr. Maria Siemionow led the surgical team at the Cleveland Clinic. "She was not able to eat solid food, she was not able to drink from the cup," Dr. Sieminow said. "She was in tremendous pain."

The surgery was complex. Doctors had to integrate different components such as nose and lower eyelids, as well as different tissue types including, skin, muscles, bony structures, arteries, veins and nerves.

Surgeon's replaced 80 percent of Culp's face, everything except for upper eyelids, forehead, lower lip and chin.

"She eats hamburgers and enjoys her pizzas. She's able to walk down the street without being called names," said Maria Siemionow.

Culp has more surgery to come. Doctors gave her excess skin to ease pressure on the stitches.

When they are done, doctors say she will look more like a composite of the donor and her old self, no longer a frightful sight.

Like others who have had transplant surgery, Culp will have to take medication the rest of her life so her body does not reject her new face. The medications raise the risk of kidney disease and cancer.

Dr. Kathy Coffman is a psychiatrist at the Cleveland Clinic. "She knew that this was not a first option, but a last resort," she said.

Those who have had face transplants say it gives them back their lives.