N.H. Woman Becomes First Person in U.S. to Receive a Second Face Transplant: 'A New Chapter in My Life'

Carmen Blandin Tarleton underwent her first face transplant procedure in 2013

Carmen Blandin Tarleton
Carmen Blandin Tarleton. Photo: Charles Krupa/AP/Shutterstock

A New Hampshire woman who suffered severe burns in a domestic attack has received her second full face transplant, becoming the first person in the United States — and the second in the world — to ever undergo the procedure twice.

Carmen Blandin Tarleton, 52, underwent her second operation for a new face in July after the transplant she received seven years ago began failing, according to Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where the surgery took place.

Tarleton's latest procedure took 20 hours and involved a team of over 45 clinicians, the medical center said in a news release on Friday.

“I am grateful to the team at the Brigham and to my donor for making it possible to receive a second face transplant, and with it the opportunity to improve my quality of life,” Tarleton said in a statement. “The pain I was suffering is gone, and I look forward to resuming my work and inspirational speaking as soon as possible.”

Approximately 40 people worldwide have received a full face transplant between 2015 and 2017, according to the Mayo Clinic. The procedure is challenging and several patients have died due to infection or rejection of the transplant.

Carmen Blandin Tarleton
Carmen Blandin Tarleton (right). Charles Krupa/AP/Shutterstock

Tarleton, who suffered burns to over 80 percent of her body after her estranged husband doused her with industrial strength lye, received her first face transplant in 2013. Herbert Rodgers, pled guilty in 2009 to maiming Tarleton and was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison, where he died in 2017.

The Brigham and Women’s Hospital said that Tarleton was listed for a second procedure in October 2016 after the small blood vessels in her face became seriously damaged as a result of chronic rejection of her first transplant, causing scarring, tightness and associated pain.

"One can hope for a transplant to last a patient’s lifetime, but realistically speaking, every type of transplant has a finite lifespan," Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, the director of Plastic Surgery Transplantation at the Brigham who also performed Tarleton's first transplant, said in a statement.

"Carmen is progressing and recovering very nicely with this second transplant – she is one of the most resilient patients that I have had the opportunity to care for," Pomahac continued. "We call this procedure live-giving, and we are thrilled to offer her the opportunity to return to the type of life that she so richly deserves."

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According to the hospital, Tarleton's second transplant is also unique due to an unusually close tissue match from the donor. The match will help lower her future risk of rejection.

“This will likely serve as a prototype going forward,” Pomahac said. “In addition to the close tissue match, the surgical team paused the transplant approximately 15 hours into the surgery, allowing us to better manage the blood loss, which can interfere with blood clotting during the operation. We completed the surgery the following day, which decreased the time Carmen had to spend in the operating room overall.”

Tarleton is currently recovering from her transplant at her home in Manchester, the Associated Press reported. She recently told the outlet that she's "elated" with how the procedure went.

“The pain I had is gone,” she said. “It’s a new chapter in my life. I’ve been waiting for almost a year. I’m really happy. It’s what I needed."

“This face looks very different than my first one and I can appreciate that. It’s a different person,” Tarleton added. “I’ll have to get used to it. My sister will have to get used to it. It takes a while for my friends and family to get used to what I look like now."

If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.

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