Connie Culp, Recipient of First U.S. Face Transplant, Meets Donor Family

To promote organ donation, family of donor decides to share their story.

ByLana Zak and Bradley Blackburn
December 20, 2010, 12:16 PM

Dec. 20, 2010— -- Since Connie Culp had her face torn off by a shotgun blast in 2004, she's measured her recovery with countless milestones. This weekend, Culp reached another, finally meeting the family of the donor who gave her a new face.

Culp, a 47-year-old mother and grandmother, underwent the first full face transplant surgery in the U.S. in Dec. 2008 at the Cleveland Clinic. Before the surgery, Culp couldn't walk down the street without drawing stares, but the transplant has given her a new chance at life.

"I don't have little kids coming up saying, 'Eww, there's a monster,'" Culp said. "They think I'm amazing. I'm just normal, but we need more people like the donors to help people."

Until now, though, Culp knew little about the woman who provided her face. Doctors would tell her only the donor's age and nothing about the surviving family.

"They've never contacted me," Culp told ABC's Diane Sawyer this past August.

Watch "World News with Diane Sawyer" for more on this story tonight on ABC.

But two years after losing their beloved wife and mother, the family of donor Anna Kasper was finally ready to step forward. The Kasper family decided to break their silence and share their story, hoping to raise awareness for organ donation.

"My mom was my best friend," said 23-year-old daughter Becky Kasper. "You know, she did whatever she had to do to make sure we were always taken care of. ... She taught me to be a very generous and forgiving person, just as she was."

"She was my wife. She was my friend," said Anna's husband, Ronald Kasper.

Two weeks before Christmas in 2008, Anna suffered a fatal heart attack.

"I got a call that she had fallen off the porch," said Ronald. "I thought maybe she had hurt her foot, but when I got to the hospital they explained to us that EMS was unable to resuscitate her."

"She had gone into cardiac arrest a couple of times while she was on life support," said Becky.

A day later, the family received devastating news. Though Anna's body was stable, she was brain dead. Following her wishes, Kasper's family agreed to donate her body, a decision which would help fifty strangers, including one with an unusual request: to transplant her face.

"I had never heard anything about a face transplant being done before," said Becky, "but her whole life, she always said, hell, if I can't use it and someone else can, you can take it!"

"It was the thing Anna would have wanted to do. She would've wanted to help Connie," said Ronald.

Culp and Kasper Family Meet

Two years after the trauma of losing their loved one, the Kasper family decided that they wanted to meet Connie Culp, having seen her remarkable spirit in Culp's previous interviews.

"I just really want to hug her," said Becky, with tears in her eyes.

And though Culp felt some anxiety about finding words for a family that had given her a priceless gift, she was eager to meet the Kaspers in person.

"I don't know them, but I feel that I love them," said Culp. "To do something so wonderful for somebody. ... What do you say? I mean, 'thank you' is not strong enough."

After waiting and wondering for so long, they finally met this weekend with tears and hugs.

"I'm so glad you did this for me," Culp told them with an emotional whisper.

And for the Kasper family, comes the knowledge that despite their deep pain, there's comfort in helping someone else.

"This was the best day," said Becky. "I'm so happy I get to meet you."

For more on organ donation, click here to visit DonateLife America, which has links to every state registery.

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