When her husband shot her in the face in 2004, Connie Culp’s life was permanently altered. She was unrecognizable because it damaged 80% of her face, including her cheekbones and nose. Her future seemed uncertain, yet she miraculously lived. One of the kids even referred to her as a “monster” when they were shopping.

Connie, though, was given another chance at life five years later. She received the first nearly complete face transplant in US history, thanks to a kind donor. It took 23 hours and a tonne of amazing effort from professionals to complete the procedure, which was done at the Cleveland Clinic.

She received a completely new look following additional operations and surgeries. And the outcome was fantastic, without a doubt.

Connie Culp and her husband, Tom started their journey into the unknown after meeting and falling in love before Connie had even graduated high school. When they were 16 years old, they fled together even though they weren’t sure what they were doing.

In the end, the pair established a pub in an Appalachian town. Despite their intense love, Connie’s spouse didn’t treat her well.


“My relationship with Tom wasn’t any different than living with my dad. He told me what to do, and I did it. He teased me and called me names. My dad did the same thing, so I just thought it was a normal way of life,” she told Oprah.

Connie started to speak up for herself after years of receiving unfair treatment.

Connie Culp Youtube/ABC

“He would push me, and people would see it, and I would get up and say, ‘I’m a good person, and I don’t deserve that,’” she says. “He wasn’t used to me talking back.”

The first face transplant patient in the US was Connie Culp.

But on September 21, 2004, Connie’s life changed permanently. Her husband shot her in the face after he accused her of flirting with another man. He then pulled the trigger and turned it on himself but managed to live.

Connie could locate Bonnie, her twin sister, by going downstairs. Bonnie then dialed Alicia, Connie’s daughter.

“I always knew that he could hurt somebody; I knew he had potential; I just didn’t think it would be my mom,” her daughter recalled.

The explosion broke Connie’s nose, cheekbones, mouth roof, and one of her eyes. Only her upper eyelids, forehead, lower lip, and chin were unharmed; the rest of her face was covered in fragments.

Undoubtedly, the allegation was horrible. Connie claims that she didn’t realize the extent of her injuries since she was too young.

“You’re actually in shock and don’t feel anything,” she said. “Your adrenaline’s going so fast that there was no pain.”

Connie Culp Youtube/ABC

Fortunately, there was a medical technician nearby who could help. He grabbed some ice to stem the bleeding and put it into her severely cut face.

Connie was left with partial blindness, loss of smell and voice, and breathing via a surgical incision in her neck. “I could feel my face just sliding down,” she said. She was lucky to be still alive at all.

“I lost my sense of smell. I lost my eye and my nose. My jaw had to wire shut. I didn’t lose any teeth during the [incident], but the top of my mouth deteriorated, so I lost my whole top mouth,” Connie explained.

“I could feel my face just sliding down.”

Her husband was later given a seven-year prison term. Connie said in 2009 that she forgave her husband on the spot. But eventually, the pair got a divorce.

“I always will [love him.] I mean, I have two kids to him,” Culp said. “But you know what? I cannot be with him anymore,” she told ABC. “I won’t let anybody talk about that; I spent six years thinking about it. And you know what? Now, it’s a new beginning. I have a new face. I’m a new me.”

30 surgeries were performed on Connie over the following five years as they tried to restore her face. Face transplants weren’t prevalent at the time. In actuality, nobody had ever gotten one in the US.

Connie would make history by being the first person in the US to have a new face. Of course, it would take a very long time before her adventure got close to being over.

Connie Culp Youtube/ABC

Connie tried to go about her daily activities normally while she waited. Unfortunately, she was the target of insults from individuals she didn’t know.

Connie Culp was referred to as a “monster.”

She once overheard a child telling another when she was out shopping that she had a monster face.

“‘You said there were no real monsters, Mommy, and there’s one right there,’” Connie recalled, adding that the boy pointed in her direction.

“‘I’m not a monster,’” Connie responded, pulling out her driver’s license to show the child what she used to look like. “I’m a person who was shot.”

Connie received physical and mental examinations to ensure her emotional stability and overall wellness. She knew that the ground-breaking procedure might not succeed and that they didn’t know when or if they would ever find a donor. There was a risk that she would look even worse than before the shooting.

The Culp family then received some wonderful news on December 9, 2008, all of a sudden. Anna Kasper, a lady, had been identified as a donor by the Cleveland Clinic.

Her loved ones spoke highly of Anna and her generosity. Regrettably, she had walked out onto her back porch, lighted a cigarette, shivered to death, and died. According to her relatives, Anna would have wanted to donate her face to aid another person in need.

“Connie’s like Anna in many ways,” Ron Kasper, Anna’s husband, said.

“As far as her personality and how much she enjoys life and how she smiles and is still able to have such a great attitude after everything she’s been through, and she takes everything in stride.”

“She’s a very special person,” he added. “And Anna was, too.”


“She’d give her time. She’d give her money. She gave a lot of things she didn’t have to others,” Ron added. “When they asked about the [organ] donation, we knew it was what she would want to do.”

“We knew it was what Anna would’ve wanted”

“Everything fit together so well,” Ron said. “We knew Anna wished to be cremated, so there wouldn’t be an open casket. And that Anna was already an organ donor. And that Anna was a match, and for there to be a match was a miracle in itself.”

“But the overriding factor was we knew it was what Anna would’ve wanted.”

On December 10, 2008, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic worked for 23 hours to cut off Anna’s skin, muscles, veins, arteries, teeth, and bone before stitching them onto Connie’s face. The procedure was a big success since the doctors worked diligently to make it work.

“This is amazing both technically, surgically, but also philosophically. The face of someone else is being adopted and accepted by the face of the recipient,” Dr. Maria Siemionow, the Cleveland Clinic surgeon who led the team performing the transplant surgery, said.

“You can see a live person who is happy her life is back.”

Connie faced a difficult road ahead after the transplant, requiring frequent biopsies and a lot of anti-rejection medication.

While it was hoped that Connie would regain some sense of normalcy thanks to the transplant, there were concerns that her face would reject it. Any sort of difficulties, including death, may have resulted from that. Thankfully, Connie survived, but her path to rehabilitation was lengthy.

Connie Culp Youtube/CBSPittsburgh

Since the donor’s facial muscles were used, she had to relearn how to speak. After spending many days in bed, Connie even needed to retrain herself to walk. She also had to “learn” several fragrances, including those of coffee and chocolate, which her brain had forgotten.

Face transplant surgery on Connie Culp

Fifty-eight days after since the face transplant operation, Connie was finally allowed to leave the hospital and check into a nearby hotel.

“You know, it was scary when I walked out,” Connie she recalled. “All I could see were my doctors upfront because of their white coats. I didn’t even see the reporters. That’s probably the one day I was glad to be blind.”

After some time, she could return to Unionport, Ohio, a little town west of Pittsburgh. Despite going through hell, she never lost her enthusiasm or sense of humor.

She recalled that she had started making jokes right away. She said, “It is a miracle. I had assumed I would have to maintain my current appearance for the rest of my life.

Connie was aware from the beginning that receiving a face transplant was more about enhancing her function than regaining her appearance.

“The importance of a face transplant was getting my mouth back in order and letting me smile again,” she told the Post-Gazette.

“And now, for instance, I can drink from a cup and eat solid food. Before, I had always to use a straw and eat soft foods.”

Connie Culp Youtube/ClevelandClinic

Connie’s life was once again changed as a result of the transplant. She started taking her dog for walks and playing darts with her buddies. What’s more, she claimed that people stopped glancing at her. The face transplant procedure was quite successful. She described herself as feeling “stronger” and “more positive” after it.

Connie Culp died at the age of 57.

She could not have her sight restored, and she was left with only partial vision in her left eye. She remained legally blind.

“I just thought, walking around like I was, nobody else would ever want me,’ she said. ‘I realize I’m not an idiot like Tom always told me.”

Connie could once more speak, laugh, and taste her meals. Most importantly, she regained her confidence and even began dating.

She was kissed by the guy she saw, who also assured her she was still Connie. He added that I still had the same level of beauty.

“When I put my make-up on, I feel pretty,” she said.

Connie Culp’s tale tragically came to an end. Cleveland Clinic spokesman Andrea Pacetti reported that she died in 2020 from complications from an infection unrelated to her transplant. The first person to have a face transplant in the US, who passed away at age 57, was a woman.

“Connie was an incredibly brave, vibrant woman and an inspiration to many,” Dr. Frank Papay, chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Dermatology and Plastic Surgery Institute, who was part of Connie’s surgical team, told CNN.

“Her strength was evident in the fact that she had been the longest-living face transplant patient to date,” Papay said in a statement. “She was a great pioneer, and her decision to undergo a sometimes daunting procedure is an enduring gift for all of humanity.”

A pioneer and an inspiration to many, Connie Culp. She had horrifying wounds, but she never gave up and recovered even more powerfully. We genuinely think she improved things in the world and hope she has finally found peace.

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