Just the sight of Connie Culp used to frighten young children. One even called her a monster.
That was before she debuted her new face. Now, five months after becoming the first American face transplant patient, Connie Culp is taking advantage of the opportunity to tell her story and warn others that what happened to her could happen to them.
"If your husband threatens you in any way, it's going to get worse. Even if they say something to you, they tell you … Oh, you're ugly, you're stupid," said Culp, whose face was obliterated in 2004 by a gunshot from her husband. "But if somebody points something at you and they say they're going to do it, eventually they're going to do it."
Despite that warning, Culp, 46, has not written off Thomas Culp, whose failed attempt at a murder-suicide sent him to prison for seven years
"I still love my husband," she said. "I forgave him the day he did it. I have to."
The gunshot blast smashed her nose, cheek and jaw and took away her ability to see, smell or smile.
But Culp told Sawyer she has no interest in reliving that day.
"I want to be positive. I want to move on. That's what I said," she said. "Everything's going to be great from here on out. It's going to be good."
Now Culp is looking to the future and all the little things she did without for five years -- the smell of soap, the tickle of a sneeze in her nose.
"It's so funny 'cause I was complaining about this pimple for a week. And the doctors were laughing at me," Culp told Diane Sawyer in an exclusive "Good Morning America" interview. "I said, here I am. I walked around for five years without a nose and here I am worried about a pimple. How funny is that? I just think that's so funny."
And when she sneezed for the first time, post-surgery, Culp joked she didn't know what to cover -- her mouth, her tracheal tube or her new nose.
Culp said all she knows about the person who donated her new face is that she was her same age and height. But she is forever grateful to her donor's family, "because without them, I wouldn't have a face. "
"So I just want to, frankly, tell them I really love them for being so thoughtful," Culp said.
The 22-hour surgery, which took place over two days at the Cleveland Clinic, garnered widespread media attention shortly after it was completed. The operation was the world's fourth foray into face transplantation surgery.
While she still bears little resemblance to the woman she used to be, Culp said she's pleased with the results.
"The nose looked good, from what I could see," she said. "And my daughter said I looked great. So she wouldn't lie to me."
"I was worried about my weight and everything," she said of her life before the shooting, lamenting how foolish that seems now. "You're always going to worry about something, you know, your waist, your weight ... your hair. It's so funny."
Culp still faces more surgery to remove loose skin the doctors left in case of swelling. The nerves in her face are rebuilding at a rate of one inch a month.
The experience has taught Culp to make sure to make the most out of her time with loved ones.
"You don't know if somebody's going to go out and hit somebody. That's why I always hug everybody before I leave them," she said. "Because you never know if you're going to see that person again."
Before the shooting, Culp said she and her husband had their own paint company "and we worked really good together, you know?"