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Transplant recipient expresses satisfaction with her new face on life

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Face transplant recipient speaks out
  • "I can smell now; I can eat steak," transplant recipient exults
  • Culp met with the family of the woman whose face was transplanted
  • How's she doing? "Like everybody else, I'm trying to stay warm," she says

(CNN) -- More than two years after undergoing a landmark, near-total face transplant at the Cleveland Clinic, Connie Culp said Monday she was happy with the transformation.

"I can smell now," the grandmother told CNN. "I can eat steak, I can eat almost any solid foods -- so it's all getting better."

Culp recently met with the family of the donor, Anna Kasper of Lakewood, Ohio, who had worked in a nursing home and whose donated body parts helped 50 people.

"It was scary at first, but we had a really good time and they explained to me what happened to (the donor) and they were just so sweet," Culp said. "I mean, she was a nurse in a rest home and she was a donor from the beginning so it was easy for them to make the decision."

Culp said Kasper's family told her the two do not look much like each other. "They said the only resemblance is my nose," she said. Instead, her face reflects a combination of Kasper's and her own before it was disfigured in 2004 by a shotgun blast that shattered her nose, cheeks and upper lip.

"I think my face is actually starting to come back a little bit," Culp said Monday.

She received Kasper's nose, upper lip and cheekbones in a 22-hour operation on December 10, 2008 -- the first of 30 surgical procedures.

Though her sense of feeling has gotten stronger in her face, her sense of humor has remained intact. Asked how she is feeling, she answered, "Like everybody else is -- I'm trying to stay warm."

But Culp's medical odyssey is not over. Her continuing recuperative regimen includes taking anti-rejection medication and doing exercises to strengthen her facial muscles, she said. "I pronounce the vowels really strongly, like AHHHHHH," she said.

Culp expressed gratitude to the many people who have written her expressing their support and to whom she is trying to respond with notes of her own.

"It's awesome and I'm still signing them," she said. "I just haven't sent them all out yet, but I'm working on it."