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Real Life

Amazing surgery: I had a face transplant

Five years ago, Connie Culp's face was destroyed by a shotgun blast. Now, at last, she can smile again. When Connie Culp was shot in the face by her husband Thomas, the once pretty brunette was left horrifically disfigured. Blasted from just over two metres away by a shotgun bullet, she amazed doctors by clinging to life despite her extensive injuries. After undergoing 30 operations to reconstruct her shattered face, the mum-of-two's appearance was still so shocking she hid away, embarrassed about her looks. But five years later, Connie has become the recipient of the world's most extensive face transplant. The courageous mum and grandmother, 46, recently unveiled her new look at a US press conference, praising the family of the donor that allowed her transplant to become possible. "While I know you all want to focus on me," she told reporters, "I think it's more important you focus on the donor family that made it so I could have this Christmas present." Connie's husband of 26 years inflicted her with near-fatal injuries in September 2004 after becoming jealous of her going out with her friends, then turned the gun on himself. He too survived, but managed to escape with minimal injuries before being sent to prison for seven years. Unfortunately, Connie wasn't so lucky. Her nose, cheeks, one eye and the roof of her mouth were shattered, leaving a large hole in the middle of her face. After emergency surgery to save her life, a tube was inserted into her windpipe so she could breathe by herself. Doctors couldn't remove the hundreds of shards of shotgun pellets and bone that were embedded in her face, leaving it distorted. Left blind and only able to eat liquid food through a straw, Connie's life as she knew it was over. But she was determined to make the best of her situation. "It'd take more than a gunshot to take away my spirit," she said. For the full story, see this week's Woman's Day — on sale June 1, 2009.

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