Beyond recognition: the story of Carmen Tarleton's face transplant
June 5, 2013 7:06 PM   Subscribe

"The first time I went into the grocery store, nobody looked at me. And I noticed [that] nobody looked at me. And that, well that's sort of really nice." In 2007, Carmen Tarleton was assaulted by her ex-husband, resulting in chemical burns over 80% of her body. She recovered after dozens of surgeries, but her face was severely disfigured. In February 2013, Cheryl Denelli-Righter suffered a stroke that left her brain-dead. Her daughter Marinda was approached to see if she was willing to donate her mother's face. This past Valentine's day, Carmen received her face transplant, the 29th in the world. This is their story. (note: article contains photos and video of Carmen both before and after the transplant.)

Previously on MeFi:
Face transplants appear to be nearing reality (2002)
Partial face transplants now possible (2008)
First near-total face transplant performed in US (2008) and revealed to public (2009)
First full face transplant recipient appears in public (2011)
36 hour facial transplant surgery performed (2012)
posted by Homeboy Trouble (27 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Amazing. I was struck by the comment about psychologists not knowing how to help, since they are trained to deal with things that have happened before. And this is completely, utterly new. I love that these two women became friends. They probably are the only two people who can work out the emotional complexities involved.
posted by pomegranate at 7:18 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


That "before" picture is really shocking (I didn't watch the video). I hope her ex-husband is serving a million years in prison.
posted by desjardins at 7:54 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


on her ex-husband Herbert Rodgers's conviction:

Under an agreement reached with the state, Rodgers was only charged with one count of maiming. But he is required to serve at least the minimum of 30 years. That means he won't be eligible for parole until he's 83.
posted by Auden at 8:16 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow. Just, I don't have any other words for it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:18 PM on June 5, 2013


That's a startling change from before to after. I'm glad it's working out for her and others.
posted by arcticseal at 8:19 PM on June 5, 2013


Face transplants are an inherently creepy thing, so I was very moved by the daughter of the woman who donated the face: "It’s quite a beautiful thing to have someone’s exterior body, especially their face," Righter says. "I can’t help but think... I could just go up to Vermont and give my mom’s face a kiss." That's some grade A humanity right there.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:20 PM on June 5, 2013 [31 favorites]


Jeez. Make sure you tell your family you want your organs donated.
posted by samofidelis at 8:46 PM on June 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Strong women.

And a big fat wow to the state of surgery these days!
posted by flippant at 8:46 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


That "before" picture is really shocking (I didn't watch the video). I hope her ex-husband is serving a million years in prison.

30 years minimum, per the video. I thought the video was really good (it's quite lengthy). Her "before" state is only shown in a couple of stills in the video (the same or similar to the one on the page), and it's mostly an interview with her after and a focus on her life with her new face (as well as with Marinda and the doctor). The first couple of minutes of the video has her talking about her assault in a little more detail, so if that's a trigger for you, skip from 0:45 to 2:18.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:04 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


As curious as I am about this story, I have a genuine phobia about facial disfigurement stuff. (Remember that Twilight Zone episode, with the masks that give people horrible caricature faces? I saw that when I was a little too young for it, and never quite recovered!) If I can figure out how to block images in my browser, I'd like to read a purely text version of the story. It sounds amazing.

So, am I understanding that they used the face of the woman who was brain dead, but she's still alive on a respirator someplace? (Remember, I'm too much of a wimp to RTFA.) If so, isn't there the (admittedly very slim) possibility that she'll wake up someday, sans face?
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:15 PM on June 5, 2013


There was an excellent New Yorker article (abstract, full article available to subscribers) about Dallas Wiens, the face transplant recipient described in the thread in the second-to-last link in the original post.
posted by matildaben at 9:22 PM on June 5, 2013


So, am I understanding that they used the face of the woman who was brain dead, but she's still alive on a respirator someplace? (Remember, I'm too much of a wimp to RTFA.) If so, isn't there the (admittedly very slim) possibility that she'll wake up someday, sans face?

What? No. Honestly, if you can't RTFA then there's really no shame in not participating in the thread.
posted by lalex at 9:28 PM on June 5, 2013 [15 favorites]


So, am I understanding that they used the face of the woman who was brain dead, but she's still alive on a respirator someplace? (Remember, I'm too much of a wimp to RTFA.) If so, isn't there the (admittedly very slim) possibility that she'll wake up someday, sans face?

Sorry if I was unclear; a tricky thing about transplants (face transplants apparently even more so) is that when blood stops flowing to tissue, the tissue starts dying. So the donor needs to be brain-dead with no hope of recovery, but still with blood circulation before the transplant starts. The woman who donated her face is dead, except that her tissue survives in Carmen, the recipient.

Also, FWIW the top image is basically a semi-abstract illustration, so you could open the story and CTRL+A to select all and CTRL+C to copy the text and paste in a text editor of choice. The before picture is halfway down the (long) article, so you won't see anything shocking by accident.

Oh, and I should have put a link to Carmen's website and to her book about her experience. (A somewhat blurred "before" i.e. pretransplant photo is on the cover of the book).
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:51 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the post. Tarleton is from a few towns over from here and her recovery process has been in the local papers on and off from time to time. Here's an article about her and about the trial (no images), for people who are curious. It was great to read the whole Verge article about it.
posted by jessamyn at 9:53 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Hopeful, in the aspect of the growth of science technology.

Sad, in the light of violence against women.

http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/products/Worldswomen/WW2010%20Report_by%20chapter(pdf)/violence%20against%20women.pdf

For women who have experienced nothing but violent men, as a result of being responsible for picking these men because of expectations from the only men they have ever known which mimic similar early family life, what is a woman to do?
posted by Arachnophile at 10:06 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


“This was truly a crime of horror,” she declared. “It involved planning and preparation, entering a person’s home while sleeping, inflicting pain and suffering over a long period of time.” Additionally, she remarked, “Torturing a mother in front of her children is bound to produce lifelong effects.” Tarleton’s daughters, now 14 and 16, witnessed part of the attack but escaped the house to summon help.

I hope her daughters are doing okay. I can't imagine the trauma of seeing your mother violently attacked. I wonder how it will affect them to see someone else's face on her.
posted by desjardins at 10:06 PM on June 5, 2013


If I can figure out how to block images in my browser, I'd like to read a purely text version of the story. It sounds amazing.

If you're using Firefox with Adblock, before you visit the linked story you can add the following rule to block the potentially disturbing images:
|http://assets.sbnation.com/*
This doesn't block the video, which I haven't viewed yet so I can't vouch for its non-disturbing nature.
posted by Jpfed at 10:15 PM on June 5, 2013


Talk about courage, struggle, and the will to overcome! OMG! May the Gods bless this wonderful woman, the donor's daughter, and the physicians who worked to help her stay alive and see this process through to its current state. This woman's struggle is "humbling", in every dramatic and deeply personal sense of that word.
posted by Vibrissae at 10:24 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


"if you can't RTFA then there's really no shame in not participating in the thread."

I... would not be ashamed to not participate in the thread. Wait, what? What does that even mean?

Anyway, it wasn't that I felt compelled to participate (or ashamed to not participate) but I had a question based on the info provided in Homeboy Trouble's post. Which Homeboy Trouble answered.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 11:36 PM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wow. They have really, really gotten better at those. I remember the first one was pretty scary even afterwards. This latest one is just a complete jaw dropper. Good on her and that amazing surgical staff.

I will say cases like this sort of make me like the whole eye for an eye justice thing. A part of me would sort of like seeing similar treatment to her attacker.

And good on the donor's mum.

(FWIW, I am and have been a whole body donor for about....ummmm....forever. My rationale is - if you are lucky enough to find any parts in this meat jalopy I call a body after I die, well, yay for you and help yourself!)
posted by Samizdata at 2:10 AM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow. Aside from the damage to her eyes, I would not have guessed from the "after" photo that this woman had ever had any injury to her face, let alone the extensive damage in the "before" photo. Some celebrity face lifts have more unnatural results.

I also thought the authors comment, responding to Verge commenters who said there should be a warning before the photos was pretty interesting.
When we spent time with Carmen, she told us that after the attack she was left mostly blind. She didn’t really know how much her appearances had changed. She agreed to hold interviews for TV and was heartbroken when before running the segment she heard them say “Warning – this may be too graphic for some viewers”. She couldn’t believe they were talking about her – she couldn’t believe that she warranted a disclaimer.

Because of that, we opted not to run a graphic warning.
posted by fontophilic at 6:05 AM on June 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


That's some impressive fucking surgery.

And her husband? Prison is too good for him and thirty years is not enough time.
posted by shoesietart at 7:24 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ursula, the article would have answered that question for you. Reading the article is important to participation in Metafilter threads, since the links are the focus of Metafilter. Other users shouldn't have to fill you in on basic details.

This woman is tough. I don't think I could have survived an attack like that. So happy for her that she has a lovely new face! It looks far better than I expected to see.

On preview: 30 years for the husband (at 100% serve time) is plenty. He'll be in his 80's, if he lives that long. Prison is harder on a person than life outside.
posted by agregoli at 7:49 AM on June 6, 2013


He'll be in his 80's, if he lives that long.

According to the local news article, he has some health problem that pretty much means he won't live that long. I don't know specifics.
posted by jessamyn at 8:12 AM on June 6, 2013


Ursula, the article would have answered that question for you. Reading the article is important to participation in Metafilter threads, since the links are the focus of Metafilter. Other users shouldn't have to fill you in on basic details.

I don't understand this at all. Often there are posts with trigger or other types of warnings, where a few people are really interested in checking out the original content but need some help or clarification before they do so. It's really not a big deal.

Anyway, I feel like it can be a really hard thing to approach family members with, donating any part of yourself. We're so attached to the idea of us as we are, these physical beings with various parts intact and "ours." I think it takes a lot of love for the fellow man (and understanding) to be able to let go of that, especially when you're doing it on the behalf of someone else. This is one of those stories that instills not only awe of science and technology, but the goodness of our fellow human beings.

(Of course you get the immediate contrast of the horribleness of our fellow human beings, because of the husband, but sometimes in the end "You're going to be okay and other people will help you out" is the only thing that matters.)
posted by Tequila Mockingbird at 8:52 AM on June 6, 2013


Wow. It is incredible what modern medicine can do. Bless her and bless the family willing to donate their mother's face to her.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:52 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Looking at her acid-burned face, all I can think is how much it must have hurt, and probably still does. He beat her with a baseball bat and doused her with industrial grade lye. She was burned over 80 - 90% of her body, meaning that much of her body looks like the picture of her damaged face in the article. Young men and women should have to read this, to learn what the slippery slope of family violence can lead to, to learn not to tolerate any abuse at all, to be inspired by the skill of the health care team, and to learn about courage and grace.

Thanks for posting this.
posted by theora55 at 10:22 AM on June 6, 2013


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