First American to have second face transplant shows off new face

First American to have second face transplant shows off new face

March 1, 2021

Woman, 53, who is the first American to successfully undergo a second face transplant after being burned by her ex-husband in a chemical attack shows off her new face for the first time

  • Carmen Tarleton, 53, underwent her second face transplant at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital last July 
  • She became the first American and the second person globally to undergo the procedure after her first transplant failed seven years after the operation 
  • Tarleton, a former nurse, showed off her new face for the first time in an interview with NBC’s Today seven months into her recovery 
  • Tarleton was also recently able to virtually meet and thank her donor’s family for the first time 
  • Tarleton’s donor for her second transplant was a 36-year-old mother named Casey Harrington Labrie, who died last July of a fentanyl overdose 
  • Tarleton was left badly disfigured when her estranged husband, Herbert Rodgers, beat her with a baseball bat and doused her body with lye back in 2007
  • She received her first transplant in 2013 and it lasted seven years before doctors discovered tissue damage as her body started rejecting the donor tissue 

A woman who is the first American to successfully undergo a second face transplant has now shown off her new face for the first time – as she thanked the donor’s family for giving her the ‘biggest gift’ in her most difficult time.

Carmen Tarleton, whose face was badly disfigured in an attack by her ex-husband in 2007, has been recovering since undergoing the second face transplant at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital last July. 

The 53-year-old became only the second person globally to undergo the procedure after her first transplant failed seven years after the operation. 

Tarleton, a former nurse, showed off her new face for the first time in an interview with NBC’s Today seven months into her recovery.

‘Every week, I get better and better… I’m excited to see what life’s gonna bring me now. I have a lot of patience,’ she said.  

Carmen Tarleton, 53, underwent her second face transplant at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital last July. Tarleton, a former nurse, showed off her new face for the first time (above) in an interview with NBC’s Today seven months into her recovery

Tarleton was also recently able to virtually meet and thank her donor’s family for the first time. 

Tarleton’s donor for her second transplant was a 36-year-old mother named Casey Harrington Labrie (pictured), who died last July of a fentanyl overdose

Tarleton’s donor for her second transplant was a 36-year-old mother named Casey Harrington Labrie, who died last July of a fentanyl overdose.

‘In the most difficult time, you gave me the biggest gift anybody could have given me,’ Tarleton told the family.

Tarleton said that every time she looks in the mirror she thinks of Casey. 

‘This is my face. It was given to me. It’s not the original face I was born with, but it’s my face. And every time I look in the mirror, I think of Casey,’ she said. 

Tarleton was burned on over 80 percent of her body and blinded when her estranged husband, Herbert Rodgers, beat her with a baseball bat and doused her body with lye back in 2007 because he thought she was seeing another man. 

In 2009, Rodgers pleaded guilty to maiming Tarleton in exchange for a prison sentence of at least 30 years. He died in prison in 2017. 

She received her first transplant in 2013 and it lasted seven years before doctors discovered tissue damage as her body started rejecting the donor tissue.

Her first donor was Cheryl Denelli-Righter, 56, who died of a stroke.

Tarleton was also recently able to virtually meet and thank her donor’s family (above) for the first time. Tarleton’s donor for her second transplant was a 36-year-old mother named Casey Harrington Labrie, who died last July of a fentanyl overdose


The 53-year-old (pictured left before the 2007 attack) became only the second person globally to undergo the procedure after her first transplant failed seven years after the operation

‘When my first face transplant failed, I basically went back to looking disfigured,’ she said. 

‘I didn’t have eyelids anymore. I lost my lips.’

She began experiencing scarring, tightness and pain because of a loss of blood flow to her face. Black patches appeared on her face. Her eyelids contracted and her lips began disappearing, making it difficult to eat. 

She was mostly housebound and resumed taking strong pain medications. 

Tarleton said the decision to undergo the entire process again was easy.  

‘I had said to (my doctor), ‘If I’m a candidate, I want another chance,” Tarleton said. 

She has now had 73 reconstructive surgeries and everything on her face has been donated except for one of her ears. 

Dr Bohdan Pomahac, who did Tarleton’s first face transplant, was initially hesitant to do another and favored doing reconstruction surgery instead. 

BEFORE THE TRANSPLANT: Tarleton was burned on over 80 percent of her body and blinded when her estranged husband, Herbert Rodgers, beat her with a baseball bat and doused her body with lye back in 2007 because he thought she was seeing another man. She is pictured before undergoing her first transplant

FIRST TRANSPLANT: She received her first transplant in 2013 and it lasted seven years before doctors discovered tissue damage as her body started rejecting the donor tissue


FAILING FIRST TRANSPLANT: In 2019, she began experiencing scarring, tightness and pain because of a loss of blood flow to her face. Black patches appeared on her face. Her eyelids contracted and her lips began disappearing, making it difficult to eat

His team, however, became convinced of the merits of a second transplant after Tarleton described how much the first one improved her life. 

She received her first transplant in 2013 and it lasted seven years before doctors discovered tissue damage as her body started rejecting the donor tissue. Her first donor was Cheryl Denelli-Righter (pictured), 56, who died of a stroke

‘She really wanted to try one more time,’ Pomahac, who led the 20-hour, second surgery, said. 

A team of around 45 clinicians removed the failing transplant and then prepared sensory nerves and blood vessels in the neck for the surgical connection. 

The face was then transplanted and Tarleton regained sensory and motor function in the following months.

Unlike her first transplant, the donor the second time around was considered a much better tissue match. 

Because of her previous injuries before the first transplant, 98 percent of donors were incompatible matches. 

Even then, the first face led to several cases of acute rejection, in which the body attacks the new face and strong drugs are needed to suppress the immune system.

Pomahac is optimistic the second transplant will last longer than the first.  

Tarleton was burned on over 80 percent of her body and blinded when her estranged husband, Herbert Rodgers (above), attacked her in 2007 because he thought she was seeing another man. In 2009, Rodgers pleaded guilty to maiming Tarleton in exchange for a prison sentence of at least 30 years. He died in prison in 2017

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