May 1, 2013

Badly disfigured woman finds strength in tragedy

A face transplant has left her 'in a better place . . . than I ever could have imagined six years ago.'

The Associated Press

BOSTON — A Vermont woman revealed her new face Wednesday, six years after her ex-husband disfigured her by dousing her with industrial-strength lye.

click image to enlarge

Carmen Blandin Tarleton of Thetford, Vt., embraces her surgeon, Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, during a news conference at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Mass., Wednesday, May 1, 2013. The 44-year-old mother of two underwent a successful face transplant in February after a 2007 attack in which her estranged husband doused her with industrial strength lye, burning more than 80 percent of her body. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Carmen Blandin Tarleton of Thetford said she went through "what some may call hell" but has found a way to be happy.

Tarleton had face transplant surgery at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital in February and spoke publicly for the first time at a news conference at the hospital Wednesday.

"I'm now in a better place, mentally and emotionally, than I ever could have imagined six years ago," Tarleton said. "I want to share my experience with others, so they may find that strength inside themselves to escape their own pain."

In 2007, the 44-year-old mother of two was attacked by her now ex-husband Herbert Rodgers, who believed she was seeing another man. Police say he went to the house looking for that man, then went into a fury directed toward Tarleton, striking her with a bat and pouring lye from a squeeze bottle onto her face.

When police arrived, Tarleton was trying to crawl to a shower to wash away the chemical. It had already distorted her face.

In 2009, Rodgers pleaded guilty to maiming Tarleton in exchange for a prison sentence of at least 30 years.

The hospital said that during the surgery, more than 30 surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses worked more than 15 hours to replace skin, muscles, tendons and nerves.

The face donor was a Williamstown, Mass., woman, Cheryl Denelli Righter, who died of a sudden stroke, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Righter's daughter, Marinda, told Tarleton on Wednesday that she looked beautiful, adding she was certain her mother had somehow picked Tarleton.

"They are both mothers, they are both survivors, they are both beacons of light," she said.

Righter said that after meeting Tarleton for the first time Tuesday, she felt overjoyed for the first time in a long time.

"I get to feel my mother's skin again, I get to see my mother's freckles, and through you, I get to see my mother live on," she said. "This is truly a blessing."

Tarleton is legally blind and read her remarks from a tablet. She thanked Righter's family for what she called "a tremendous gift" that's greatly alleviated the physical pain she'd felt daily.

Tarleton referred to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing and said the city is "facing the challenges of pain and forgiveness."

"There is a lot to learn and take from horrific events," Tarleton said. "I want others to know that they need not give up on feeling (like) themselves when tragedy strikes. . ."

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