Connie Culp, America’s first face transplant recipient, spoke to Anderson Cooper Thursday about her long road to recovery and why she finally decided, in March, to divorce the man that left her disfigured for life.
After being shot in the face by her husband of 25 years, it took more than 15 surgeries and almost seven years for Connie to finally break free, and she did so only after her daughter asked her: “What kind of example are you setting for me? You’d go back to the man that blew your head off.”
Connie paints a heartbreaking tale of abuse and brainwash at the hands of her husband, Thomas Culp, who was convicted of attempted aggravated murder after flying into a jealous rage and shooting Connie in the face, almost killing her and leaving a gaping hole where her features used to be.
The horrific attack shattered Connie’s nose, cheeks, roof of her mouth and an eye, leaving a gaping hole. Hundreds of fragments of bone and shotguns pellets were embedded in her face and initially she could only breath by having a tube inserted in her windpipe.
In December 2008, Connie underwent a 22 hour surgery to become America’s first face transplant patient. It took eight surgeons at Cleveland Clinic to complete the procedure, they replaced 80 percent of Connie’s face.
Amazingly, Culp was sentenced to only seven years in prison for the 2004 shooting, and Connie kept in contact with him throughout his incarceration. He was recently released.
“It’s really hard to divorce somebody. It’s like, I don’t know, losing the half of you,” Connie explained about her reticence to end their marriage. “I just couldn’t get myself to finish filling out those papers.”
Connie’s sister Bonnie explained that her sibling never thought she was being abused “until recently, until people started telling her.”
“She doesn’t think she was abused because she was brainwashed by him for so many years, that’s all she has ever known,” Bonnie said. “Now she is learning to be strong on her own.”
Connie spoke of a time she went to visit her husband in jail and asked him if he thought he had abused her: “I went to go and see him one time and I went and said, ‘Do you think you abused me?’ and he said no. And then he laughed and I asked him again and he said, ‘Well maybe verbally.’”
Culp recently released a statement explaining away the shooting as “an accident” and claiming the couple loved each other “more than anybody I know.”
Watch part of Anderson’s interview with Connie below: