Vt. lye attack victim approved for face transplant

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MONTPELIER, VT. (AP) - A woman who was burned and disfigured when her ex-husband doused her with industrial lye four years ago has been approved for a rare face transplant.

Carmen Tarleton, who was blinded in one eye and has limited vision in the other, said she hopes to be able to blink again. She wants to be able to breathe through both sides of her nose and eat normally. And she longs for the pain in her neck from the scarring to be relieved.

“I can’t do those kind of everyday type of things that we all take for granted. I did, I definitely did,” Tarleton, 43, said Tuesday.

Tarleton’s transplant would be done at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The hospital has done three full transplants this year, including on Charla Nash, a Connecticut woman who was mauled by a chimpanzee gone berserk.

At least 18 face transplants have been performed around the world, said Dr. Maria Siemionow of the Cleveland Clinic.

Tarleton, who has two daughters, had to undergo weekly tests at the Boston hospital to determine if she was eligible for the procedure. They included physical tests, MRIs, evaluation by psychiatrists, blood and tissue tests, and appointments with physical, speech and other therapists.

She will be listed as a potential recipient seeking a donor on Monday. The hospital said she’s the only one seeking a face transplant in the region, but Tarleton expects it will take a couple of months before a donor is found, based on the experience of the hospital’s other face transplant recipients.

The Department of Defense has given Brigham and Women’s a $3.4 million research grant for its face transplants. Tarleton’s will be covered by the grant, said Lori Shanks, a spokeswoman for the hospital.

“I’m excited,” Tarleton said.

The news comes more than four years after Tarleton’s estranged husband broke into her Thetford home and beat her with a baseball bat, fracturing an eye socket and breaking her arm, and pouring the chemical on her, leaving her with burns over most of her body. Herbert Rodgers is serving a minimum of 30 years in prison for the June 2007 attack.

Tarleton has undergone roughly 50 surgeries since then, 14 of them on her neck.

She hopes the transplant, which she said will include replacing deep scarring on her neck with donor tissue, will relieve her recurring neck pain. The neck discomfort pulls her forward, she said, which has caused back pain. And she’d like to be able to go out in public and eat comfortably without food falling out or drooling, she said.

“I don’t want to have to always ask for an extra napkin. It’s those kind of everyday things. It’s well worth it to me. I have so little function in my face,” she said.

She hopes being able to blink and clear her eye would help her synthetic cornea last longer.

“I want to preserve my vision as long as I can,” she said.

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