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

UPDATE: Body of Slocan River drowning victim recovered

The man was swimming near Winlaw on Wednesday.

July Kootenay real estate sales at record high

Sales and prices of Kootenay real estate on the rise

Nelson’s SMRT1 Technologies to provide vending tech to Vancouver company

UpMeals will launch 22 machines across Canada using SMRT1’s personalized machines

Amid pandemic, a new Castlegar princess is crowned

Hailey Gleboff was named Castlegar Princess.

No charges yet in death of Abbotsford officer Allan Young

Police and Crown say the investigation is still underway

QUIZ: Do you know the truth?

In what has been described as a post-truth era, how much do you know about truth and lies?

Simon Cowell breaks his back falling from electric bike

Incident happened at his home in California

VIDEO: Internet famous Yukon-based bhangra dancer explores Vancouver Island

Gurdeep Pandher spreads joy through dance, forms cross-cultural connections amid pandemic

Unofficial holidays: the weird and wonderful things people celebrate around the world

On any given day of the year, there are several strange, silly or serious holidays to observe

Moving on: Tanev scores 11 seconds into OT as Canucks oust Wild

Vancouver beats Minnesota 5-4 to move into first round of NHL playoffs

Gene editing debate takes root with organic broccoli, new UBC research shows

Broccoli is one of the best-known vegetables with origins in this scientific haze

VIDEO: U.S. Air Force pilot does fly-by for B.C. son amid COVID border separation

Sky-high father-son visit plays out over White Rock Pier

3 Vancouver police officers test positive for COVID after responding to large party

Union president says other officers are self-isolating due to possible exposure

New mothers with COVID-19 should still breastfeed: Canada’s top doctor

Dr. Theresa Tam made the recommendation during World Breastfeeding Awareness Week

Most Read