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

Just Posted

Beat the rush: Give the gift of time to the community this holiday season

Volunteer Victoria offers tips for meaningful experiences

West Shore crashes causing delays for morning commuters

Three-vehicle crash on Highway 1 causing some delays along with a fender bender on Wale Road

Sunny skies ahead for Wednesday

Plus a look ahead at your weekend

The Grinch decks the halls for Sidney’s holiday season

A flurry of holiday events to be had in Sidney this year

WestShore Town Centre adds sensory-sensitive approach to photos with Santa

Limited reservations available on Dec. 15 and 22 from 10 to 11 a.m.

POLL: Do you plan on making any purchases on Black Friday?

We’ve all seen the images. Shoppers rioting outside of a store in… Continue reading

B.C. to advocate for frustrated, confused, unhappy cellphone users, says premier

Maple Ridge New Democrat Bob D’Eith to advocate for more affordable and transparent cellphone options

‘Our culture is not a religion,’ indigenous educator tells B.C. Supreme Court in case of smudging at school

Mother also gave evidence Tuesday in Nanaimo courtroom, case continues Wednesday

B.C. man who killed Belgian tourist near Boston Bar gets life in prison, no parole until 2042

Sean McKenzie pleaded guilty to second-degree murder of 28-year-old Amelie Christelle Sakkalis

‘Very disrespectful’: B.C. first responder irked by motorists recording collisions on cellphones

Central Cariboo Search and Rescue deputy chief challenges motorists to break the habit

Daily cannabis linked to reduction in opioid use: B.C. researchers

Researchers looked at a group of 1,152 people in Vancouver who reported substance use and chronic pain

Port Alberni rallies for mill workers

Fundraisers helping ease the sting of five months without work

Most Read