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Connie Culp

May 7, 2009

The video below is from a press conference given earlier this week by Connie Culp, the recipient of the nation’s first face transplant:

Culp is a survivor of domestic violence: five years ago, her husband shot her at point-blank range, all but destroying her face. She is rebuilding her life with humor and grace. She seems genuinely grateful not only for her new face, but for the kindness of the people in her life. I definitely teared up a little when I watched her thanking the donor’s family and her doctors.

Our faces are vital to the ways in which we think about our external selves. While our hips and legs and chests are usually covered with clothes or somehow hidden from ourselves or others, our faces are rarely covered in the same way (although this is not the case for all people, of course.) Faces are how we present ourselves to the world, how we recognize each other, where we express emotion. Losing your face must feel acutely like losing a huge part of yourself–if not your whole self. It is easy to see the joy Connie Culp feels in having this new face, but one must wonder too how it feels to assimilate a completely different set of facial features into your identity. How does this new face–in some ways, this new person–become you? This was not a reconstruction; it was a transplant. Culp’s new features once belonged to someone else. To look at yourself in the mirror and see no trace of the former lines and shadows of your features is an experience I can hardly imagine. But Connie Culp has gone through it twice–after her shooting and with this new transplant. And I can only admire her for what must be her strong sense of self–a sense of self that transcends appearances–and salute her for her courage and strength.

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