Vt. lye victim gets new face at Boston hospital

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BOSTON (AP) - Loved ones knew it was her at the hospital when they saw her teeth.

Carmen Blandin Tarleton’s face was unrecognizable after the lye attack, burned away in the frenzy of an estranged husband’s rage.

Nearly six years later, the Vermont nurse is celebrating a gift that has given her a new image following a full facial transplant this month.

Doctors at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston said at a Wednesday news conference that the 44-year-old’s surgery included transplanting a female donor’s facial skin to Tarleton’s neck, nose and lips, along with facial muscles, arteries and nerves.

“I know how truly blessed I am, and will have such a nice reflection in the mirror to remind myself what selfless really is,” Tarleton wrote on her blog Wednesday.

She did not attend the news conference but watched it during a live web broadcast. The hospital said it was not releasing a current picture of her.

Tarleton’s sister, Kesstan Blandin, shared a statement from Tarleton that said she felt “really good and happy.”

“I want to convey to the donor’s family what a great gift they have given to me,” the statement said. “…I feel strong and I am confident that I have the strength to deal with whatever comes my way.”

The Thetford, Vt., woman suffered burns on more than 80 percent of her body and was left blind after her attacker beat her with a baseball bat and doused her with the industrial strength chemical in June 2007.

Tarleton, who once worked as a transplant nurse, has undergone more than 50 surgeries since then. The operations included skin grafts and work that has restored vision to one eye.

The latest surgery took 15 hours and included a team of more than 30 medical professionals. The lead surgeon, Bohdan Pomahac, called her injuries among the worst he’s seen in his career.

Carmen is a fighter,” the doctor said. “And fight she did.”

Pomahac’s team has performed five facial transplants at the hospital. He said his team’s latest patient is recovering well and is in great spirits as she works to get stronger.

Before the transplant, Tarleton drooled constantly because of scar tissue in her mouth. She also couldn’t turn her head from side to side or lift her chin.

Pomahac said Tarleton was pleased when she saw her new face for the first time. Her appearance will not match that of the late donor’s face, he said.

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