Vermont Woman Gets Full Facial Transplant

Carmen Blandin Tarleton's transplant was the fifth of its kind at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

surgeryIn the operating room during Tarleton’s procedure. (Photo by lightchaser photography, courtesy of Brigham and Women’s Hospital)

Carmen Blandin Tarleton spent much of the past six years in and out of hospitals. She’s had 55 surgeries. She spent nearly four months in a medically-induced coma. And earlier in February, she arrived at Brigham and Women’s Hospital for the procedure that would change her life: a full facial transplant.

A 44-year-old registered nurse living in Vermont, Tarleton was viciously and randomly attacked by her estranged husband in 2007. After beating her with a baseball bat, Tarleton’s husband sprayed her body with industrial strength lye, a compound used in soap and many household cleaners that burns through living tissue. Chemical burns covered 80 percent of her body, leaving her disfigured, blind, and without most facial function. But after searching for a female donor of a similar age and complexion for more than a year, Tarleton recently became the fifth patient in Brigham and Women’s history to receive a full facial transplant.

Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, a plastic surgeon who performed the first full facial transplant surgery in the country at Brigham and Women’s in 2011, was able to transplant the neck, nose, lips, facial muscles, arteries, and nerves of an anonymous donor to Tarleton’s face with the help of a team of more than 30 doctors, nurses, and technicians in a 15-hour procedure.

“She’s in great spirits, she’s working hard to get stronger, she’s fortunate to have this incredibly talented team of experts working for her,” Pomahac said during a press conference today. “She is without a doubt one of the most inspirational people I have ever met.”

Pomahac says Tarleton is now recovering well and is expected to regain about 80 percent of facial function, though she is still being closely monitored. “We are still cautious with regard to thinking of what else could go wrong,” he explains. “It starts with very cautious optimism and it grows on as time goes by.”

Still, Pomahac says he is very pleased with the progress Tarleton has made. “Her injuries were among the worst I’ve seen in my career,” he says. “Our expectations for Carmen’s survival were low, but Carmen is a fighter, and fight she did.”

At today’s press conference, Tarleton’s sister Kesstan read a statement from Carmen—who wrote a book, Overcome: Burned, Blinded, and Blessed, about her ordeal and recovery—and says her sister echoes Pomahac’s sentiment.”I feel great appreciation and gratitude for the tremendous gift that I’ve been given,” she said in the statement. “This greatly improved my quality of life and comfort level.”

Tarleton continues in the statement to thank the donor’s family and her own support system. “I have been so touched and am so grateful for all that the community, both locally and globally, have done for me,” she says. “We’re all excited to move into this new chapter of our lives together.”

Watch the procedure and an animated video of the procedure here:


Carmen Transplant Animation from BWH Public Affairs on Vimeo.


Carmen BRoll Video from BWH Public Affairs on Vimeo.