It was nearly six years ago when Carmen Tarleton's life changed forever. Her estranged husband broke into her home, beat her with a baseball bat and doused the mother of two with industrial-strength lye.
"Her injuries were among the worst I've ever seen in my career," said Dr. Bohdan Pomahac of Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Pomahac has been treating Tarleton since that fateful day. Fifty-five surgeries later and Tarleton was still severely disfigured. She's been unable to turn her head, has only partial vision in one eye and complete blindness in the other. Doctors say she lived a life of constant pain. But her spirit has never died.
"She's tough. She'll do what needs to be done. She wants to live her life to the fullest," Pomahac said.
In 2011, Tarleton-- a former transplant nurse at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center-- and her team of doctors decided to pursue a full face transplant. She told WCAX News back then that the promise of once again being able to kiss her children and blink her eyes made the decision an easy one.
"And that gives me a lot of hope that I could really improve my quality of life... And that is very inspiring to me," she said.
Earlier this month, after a 14-month wait, Tarleton became the fifth person in the country to ever undergo a face transplant. It took 15 hours and a team of 30 doctors. And while she's not completely out of the woods yet, doctors are cautiously calling the surgery a success, despite an early setback.
"We also had an episode of rejection that fortunately controlled and I would hope that she's entering the phase of healing and improvement," Pomahac said.
We spoke to Carmen Tarleton by phone Wednesday and she says her spirits are high. In a statement read by her sister Kesstan Blandin at the hospital, Tarleton told the world she's excited to start this new chapter of her life.
"I feel great appreciation and gratitude for the tremendous gift I've been given," Blandin read. "This greatly improves my quality of life and comfort level. My spirits are high I feel really good and happy for this momentous opportunity in my life. And I want to convey to the donor's family what a great gift they have given to me."
Doctors expect it will take up to six months for Tarleton to regain sensation in her face and motor function. A long journey toward an improved a quality of life for a woman who has defied the odds.
Tarleton has been speaking to groups about her life since the attack. She's also published a book. "Overcome: Burned, Blinded and Blessed" was released earlier this month.
Wednesday, June 19 2013 6:12 PM EDT2013-06-19 22:12:23 GMT
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