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From her patient room in BWH, Carmen Blandin Tarleton listened in to a webcast of a press conference held in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center on Wednesday. The press conference was about her, BWH's fifth face transplant recipient, and her remarkable recent surgery. As she remained in her room recovering, her family, care team, members of the media and others gathered for the Feb. 27 announcement of her successful surgery.
"This has been such a surreal experience," said Tarleton. "I feel better every day."
In 2007, Tarleton, a 44-year-old registered nurse and mother of two from Vermont, was brutally attacked by her estranged husband, who doused her with industrial strength lye, burning more than 80 percent of her body.
Tarleton was rushed to BWH, where she was put into a medically-induced coma. During the course of three months, she underwent 38 surgeries, followed by 17 additional surgeries, including some to restore her sight, in the next five years. Despite this, Tarleton remained severely disfigured and legally blind. In December 2011, she was approved for a face transplant, and the New England Organ Bank began searching for a donor, whom was identified earlier this month.
A team led by Plastic Surgery Transplantation Director Bohdan Pomahac, MD, recently completed the surgery, transplanting the nose, lips, facial muscles, arteries, nerves and neck tissue of the anonymous donor to Tarleton. The team, comprised of more than 30 physicians, nurses, anesthesiologists and technicians, worked for 15 hours to complete the transplant.
At the Feb. 27 press conference, Pomahac referred to Tarleton as a "fighter." Elof Eriksson, MD, chief of Plastic Surgery, shared his pride for the surgery team, "who took up the challenge to do everything possible for our courageous patient."
From her quiet room, between sips of water, Tarleton shared: "It's amazing how quickly your life can change. I believe that everything happens for a reason. Now I feel like it is my job to show people that anyone can overcome anything."