Connie Culp, the first face transplant victim in the United States, died, according to the Cleveland Clinic, who performed the surgery.
The Cleveland Clinic confirmed the news on Twitter on Friday by saying, “We are saddened by the loss of Connie Culp,” which they described as “an inspiration for all of us at the Cleveland Clinic.”
He was 57 years old.
The exact cause of death has not been released, but Culp has been in the hospital for several days, according to NBC WKYC sister company in Cleveland, Ohio.
“Connie was an incredibly brave, vibrant and inspiring woman for many. Her strength was evident in the fact that she had been the longest-lived face transplant patient to date,”
Culp arrived at the Cleveland Clinic after her husband shot her in the face before turning the gun on himself in 2004. He survived and was sent to prison for seven years.
In 2008, doctors began a 22-hour procedure to replace 80% of Culp’s face with that of a deceased donor. Before receiving the transplant, Culp had already undergone nearly 30 other corrective interventions.
Although the transplant could never restore Culp’s original appearance, it helped her regain her senses after the gun exploded and broke her nose, cheeks, palate and eye.
In 2009, Culp said the smell of soap made her realize that her new face was working.
After the transplant, Culp spent years sharing his story and talking about domestic violence, as well as educating and encouraging others who would have undergone transplant interventions.
Surgeon Dr. Maria Siemionow said her journey to help Culp heal inspired her research into reducing transplant rejection.
“Thinking about Connie means thinking about someone who won’t give up and I won’t give up,” he told WKYC. “We are linking donor and recipient bone marrow cells to support face transplantation and other organ transplants to induce tolerance and reduce the need for permanent immunosuppression,”