A WOMAN who had a face transplant after being doused in a toxic chemical by her estranged husband will need a new op.
Carmen Blandin Tarleton’s transplanted face is failing and she is hoping for donor to emerge – or if one can’t be found, the prospect of having her damaged one reconstructed.
The 51-year-old was burned over 80 per cent of her body when she was beaten with a baseball bat and doused her body with industrial strength lye – also known as caustic soda.
Six years ago, she received a face transplant at Brigham and Woman’s Hospital in Boston, after the 2007 attack
But since the transplant, Tarleton has had repeated episodes when her new face is rejected by her body and 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.
But 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. I would rather not have to go through a catastrophic failure,” she said.
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.”
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.
l will get back to where I was. How, I don’t know. I will get through this.
Carmen Blandin Tarleton
She lost 20 pounds, began walking five miles a week, learned to play the piano and banjo, wrote a memoir and has spoken to many groups about her life..
“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.
Her husband Herbert Rodgers was sentenced to between 30 and 70 years for the attack but died in prison in 2017.
More than 40 patients worldwide have received face transplants, including Katie Stubblefield and Cameron Underwood.
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.
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.
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He added that “it’s really not realistic to hope faces are going to last (the patient’s) lifetime.”
Dr. Brian Gastman, a transplant surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, which did the first US 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.
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