Face transplant recipient’s donor face now failing

More than 40 patients worldwide have received face transplants

A woman who was severely burned in a domestic violence attack in Vermont is hoping for a second face transplant after doctors recently discovered tissue damage that likely will lead to the loss of her donor face.

Carmen Blandin Tarleton, 51, was burned over 80% of her body when her estranged husband beat her with a baseball bat and doused her body with lye in 2007. Six years ago, she received a face transplant at Brigham and Woman’s Hospital in Boston, where she’s being evaluated for a possible second transplant.

Tarleton, who now lives in Manchester, New Hampshire, told The Boston Globe she has no regrets about the transplant because it dramatically improved her life. She has learned to play the piano and banjo, wrote a memoir and has spoken to many groups about her life. She lost 20 pounds and began walking five miles a week.

“I had such a low quality of life prior to my face transplant. Do I wish it had lasted 10 or 20 years? Of course,” she said.

More than 40 patients worldwide have received face transplants, including 15 in the United States. None of the American patients have lost their donor faces, but last year, a French man whose immune system rejected his donor face eight years after his first transplant underwent a second.

Tarleton’s doctors noted that most transplanted organs have limited life spans. But her situation is a reminder that despite successes in the field, face transplantation is experimental and still a young science with many unanswered questions about benefits versus long-term risks.

“There are so many unknowns and so many new things we are discovering,” said Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, director of plastic surgery transplantation at the Brigham and one of Tarleton’s surgeons. Still, he said, “it’s really not realistic to hope faces are going to last (the patient’s) lifetime.”

READ MORE: US begins organ transplants from living donors who have HIV

Dr. Brian Gastman, a transplant surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, which did the first U.S. face transplant 11 years ago, said more patients are starting to experience chronic rejection. “We all believe every patient will likely need a retransplant” at some point, he said.

Since her transplant in February 2013, Tarleton has had repeated rejection episodes when her new face became swollen and red. Those episodes were successfully treated, but last month, physicians discovered that some blood vessels to her face had narrowed and closed, causing facial tissue to die. If the damage progresses slowly, she could go on the wait list for another donor face. Under the worst case scenario, the tissue would die quickly, and doctors would have to remove it and reconstruct her original face.

“We all know we are in unchartered waters,” she said. “I would rather not have to go through a catastrophic failure.”

It will take at least a month to evaluate Tarleton and reach a decision about a second transplant, doctors said. Aside from the setback with her face, a synthetic cornea transplanted into her left eye recently failed, leaving her almost blind.

“These are not common things to go wrong, but when things go wrong, you have to deal with it,” she said. “l will get back to where I was. How, I don’t know. I will get through this.”

The Associated Press

READ MORE: Organ donation week particularly personal for Comox Valley nurse

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lacombe IODE chapter supports Alberta Council of Womens Shelters

Lord Lascelles Chapter looking to raise $100,000 for children exposed to domestic violence

New municipal assessor appointed for the City of Lacombe

Council awarded the assessment services contract to and appointed Wild Rose Assessment Services Inc

New bylaw hours changes service delivery in Lacombe

Council approved changes to the Enforcement Services schedule

Lacombe Councillor’s infill levy motion unanimously voted on by council

Admin already working on plan for infill developers to share in needed infrastructure upgrade costs

Potential Bike Skills Park presented to Lacombe Council

Park would be located behind current location of the Lacombe Chamber of Commerce

WATCH: Night Among the Stars Celebrity Dance-off supports Lacombe BBBS

Over $12,000 raised for Dancer’s Edge Parents Association and Lacombe BBBS

Fake meat and a latte? Starbucks adds Beyond Meat in Canada

The Seattle roaster has talked about introducing plant-based patties in the U.S., but has yet to do so

Groundhogs got it wrong: spring isn’t coming soon, Weather Network says

The only part of B.C. to warm up early will be Victoria

Pink Shirt Day campaign urges Canadians to ‘Lift Each Other Up’

Annual anti-bullying effort returns Wednesday, Feb. 26

ReProm: Second shot for LGBTQ Calgarians to enjoy milestone as themselves

Centre for Sexuality, a sexual health not-for-profit in Calgary, is holding its first ReProm fundraising gala

Calgary woman charged in aggravated assault of 11-month-old daughter

The girl was brought to the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary with a broken arm

Little-used part of Constitution led to different carbon tax rulings: experts

On Monday, the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled 4-1 that the carbon tax is unconstitutional

Alberta legislature resumes: Focus on jobs and bill to punish protesters

Kenney’s United Conservative government was elected last spring on a mandate to create jobs

Most Read