Five years ago, Connie Culp’s husband Thomas aimed a shotgun at her face and pulled the trigger.
The blast shattered her nose and cheeks, tore up her hard palate and blew out her right eye.
A chaotic mess of shotgun pellets and bone splinters occupied the place where the middle of her face used to be.
Only her upper eyelids, forehead, lower lip and chin were spared.
Somehow she lived, but after 30 operations to fix the mess, the result was so horrifying that children dared not venture near her home.
Five months ago, Culp received the face of a dead woman during the nation’s first facial transplant surgery, which was performed at Cleveland Clinic.
Last week, she stood before reporters for the first time since the life-changing surgery. Her expressions were mechanical. Her speech was gravelly. There were baggy folds of skin that doctors plan to remove once her circulation improves and the facial nerves regenerate.
But she could talk and smile. She did quite a lot of the latter, actually.
“I guess I’m the one you came to see today,” Culp, 46, told reporters. But “I think it’s more important that you focus on the donor family that made it so I could have this person’s face.”
Culp wants to help others accept people that have suffered disfiguring burns and injuries.
“When somebody has a disfigurement and don’t look as pretty as you do, don’t judge them because you never know what happened to them,” she said. “Don’t judge people who don’t look the same as you do. Because…one day it might be all taken away.”
Culp’s husband turned the gun on himself after shooting Connie, but he didn’t get the job done there, either. He went to prison for 7 years.