Brigham surgeons perform 5th face transplant on Vermont woman burned in lye attack

A Vermont woman who was terribly disfigured in an attack by her estranged husband has received a full face transplant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the hospital said Wednesday morning. It’s the fifth face transplant performed by Brigham surgeons.

Carmen Tarleton, now 44, was at home in Thetford with her two girls when her husband forced his way inside and attacked her in June 2007. After battering her head with a baseball bat, he squirted industrial-strength lye from a dish soap bottle onto her arms, legs, back, and face, burning over 80 percent of her body, police said at the time.


Tarleton, who was nearly blinded in the assault, had waited longer than any other Brigham patient for a face transplant. She had been on the waiting list for 14 months.

During a press conference at the hospital, doctors said Tarleton is recovering well from her surgery, which occurred this month. The hospital does not disclose the date of transplants to protect the identity of donors, who usually are anonymous.

“She is in great spirits,’’ said lead surgeon Dr. Bohdan Pomahac. “She’s one of the most inspirational people I have ever met.’’

He said that Tarleton is the hospital’s most complex face transplant patient so far, but that she was eager for the surgery because she suffered such extreme disfigurement and pain. Tarleton did not attend the press conference, but members of her family did. Her sister, Kesstan Blandin, read a statement from her.

“My spirits are really high,’’ Tarleton said in the statement. “I feel confident that I have the strength to deal with whatever comes my way.’’

In a press release, the hospital said “a team led by Pomahac transplanted the facial skin, including the neck, nose, lips, facial muscles, arteries and nerves. The plastic surgery transplantation team, comprised of more than 30 physicians, nurses, anesthesiologists and technicians, worked for 15 hours to complete the transplant.’’


Tarleton, who has written a book about her experiences, posted a message on her blog Wednesday.

“I could never have imagined the overwhelming feelings I encountered after my surgery,’’ she wrote. “I could freely move my head from side to side without the usual scar discomfort I have felt for almost six years now. I cried with such a deep appreciation for the persons truly responsible for giving me this gift: this new physical freedom.

“I am so grateful for all that have been watching over me with such tenderness and loving care. I know how truly blessed I am, and will have such a nice reflection in the mirror to remind myself what selfless really is.’’

During an interview with the Globe in September, Tarleton said her family originally opposed her receiving a donor face because it did not want her looks to change yet again, she said. But Tarleton said it was too difficult living with a face that was barely functional. She had no eyelids and could not blink, her damaged nose restricted her breathing, and she was able to move her lips only slightly.

“It’s easy to forget how little of a face I have that works,’’ she said at the time. “I can’t let that go.’’

In 2009, a team led by Pomahac, the Brigham’s director of plastic surgery transplantation, performed a partial face transplant on James Maki of Fitchburg, the first face transplant at the hospital and the second such transplant performed in the United States. In 2011, Pomahac and the team performed the first full face transplant in the United States, on Dallas Wiens of Texas. The other two recipients were Mitch Hunter and Charla Nash. All four are doing well.