Woman Disfigured in Lye Attack Reveals New Face

With face transplant, Vermont woman has received "wonderful gift."

ByABC News
May 1, 2013, 10:26 AM

May 1, 2013— -- Wearing a red and black scarf on her head with a sunflower pinned to her shirt, face transplant recipient Carmen Blandin Tarleton told reporters that she will be "forever grateful" to the tissue donor who provided her with a new face.

"The donor and her family have given me a tremendous gift making a significant difference in my quality of life at the daily level," said Tarleton. "They graciously relieved a significant amount of my physical pain and discomfort."

In February the mother of two received a full face transplant during a 15 hour operation at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. The operation came six years after she was attacked in her Vermont home by her estranged husband, who beat her with a baseball bat and doused her in lye. The attack left legally blind and disfigured, unable to even turn her head side to side.

To help Tarleton, 44, regain mobility, donor tissue was used to cover Tarleton's face from her forehead to the bottom of her neck. The operation was lead by Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, the director of plastic surgery transplantation at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

According to Pomahac, Tarleton's case was particularly complicated since the tissue covered more surface area than in previous transplants and initially she had an active immune response against the tissue. However, doctors have been able to treat the reaction and currently there are no signs of rejection.

"I'm biased, but I think she looks great," Pomahac told reporters.

Over the next three to six months, Pomahac estimated that Tarleton will regain more sensitivity in her face. She will regain motor skill function in her face in the next six months to a year. During the healing process, Pomahac says that a few more minor surgeries will also be required.

"My hopes were to have the pain in my neck relieved and it was instantly when I woke up," said Tarleton, who was joined at the press conference with her boyfriend. "It's been heaven sent. I'm so much more comfortable today than I have ever been for the last six years."

On Wednesday, Tarleton was able to turn her head and embrace Marinda Righter, the daughter of her tissue donor. Righter, who had first met Tarleton the day before, called their a meeting a "magical" experience.

"I think Carmen and my mother [Cheryl Denelli Righter] are kindred spirits," said Righter. "I think the universe conspired somehow to bring together these two women."

Righter and Tarleton wore sunflowers at the press conference in honor of Cheryl Denelli Righter.

After her 2007 attack, Tarleton wrote about her experiences in her memoir, "Overcome: Burned, Blinded, and Blessed" and began to speak out about her attack and its aftermath. She recently planned her first book signing and speaking engagement since her surgery.

"Although I have been through what some may call hell, I found my way to my own happiness," said Tarleton.