The Doctors' Exclusive: The New Face of Courage
After the incident, Carmen spent three months in a medically induced coma and had to undergo 38 surgeries to try to repair the facial damage she sustained. Over the last six years, Carmen has undergone 17 additional procedures, including skin grafts, but none were successful in restoring her facial muscle control.
In 2011, Carmen joined The Doctors to share her story of courage, survival and grace in the midst of unimaginable pain and suffering. Although the attack left her legally blind, Carmen wrote a book titled Overcome: Burned, Blinded, and Blessed, which details her inspiring outlook on life, regardless of the extreme challenges she’s faced.
In February 2013, Carmen became the fifth person in the U.S. to receive a groundbreaking full-face transplant. The elaborate 15-hour surgery involved transplanting a donor’s nose, lips, facial muscles and neck, and carefully attaching the facial arteries and nerves.
The extensive procedure was led by Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, the director of plastic surgery transplantation at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Pomahac and a team of more than 30 surgeons and specialists achieved a remarkable result, which not only altered Carmen’s appearance, but helped improve her speech, reduced chronic pain and enhanced her ability to eat, drink and blink.
“I was in the hospital a lot longer than I thought I would be, but it’s been well worth it,” Carmen says.
Carmen has regained partial sensation in her face, along with the ability to move her neck and facial muscles. She recalls a dramatic improvement in her chronic neck pain as soon as she awoke from surgery. “Now, I have a lot more movement in my head, and I’ll get more movement in my head as time goes on,” she explains.
Although she still has impaired vision and residual swelling from the surgery, Carmen can still make out the basic features of her new face. “I can see my chin. I can see my nose, and I can see my eyelids. I just can’t see the close detail of it,” she explains.
“My family members stared at me for quite a while, because it is surreal. It is different. [It] was a little bit of a surprise to have people say, ‘Oh, you look great.’ Or, ‘You’re beautiful,’” Carmen says. “I haven’t heard that for a long time.”
With Carmen’s new chance at life came an unexpected bonus: a new chance at love. “I actually met somebody, and he’s younger, and he’s ended up being the love of my life,” she says.
• Hear Dr. Travis' heartfelt message to Carmen.
The Doctors' Food Pharmacy
Nutrition and health expert Joy Bauer shares tips from her bestselling book, Joy Bauer’s Food Cures.
The Signs of Stress
Did you know that more than 75 percent of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related conditions and complaints? Don’t let stress get the best of you! Pfizer’s Freda Lewis-Hall, M.D. gives tips to recognize the signs of stress. Plus, learn the five A’s of managing stress in your life.
“A lot of people think that only negative things can cause stress, but there are many positive things in our lives that cause stress, as well,” Dr. Lewis-Hall says. “The key is to acknowledge that you’re stressed and to find out how stress affects you.”
Prolonged stress can produce emotional symptoms, such as anxiety, depression and a lack of focus. Over time, daily stress can also impact the body from a physical standpoint. Stress has been linked to sleep disturbances, decreased sex drive, persistent fatigue, muscle tension, chest pain and frequent headaches.
“Stressful situations cause the release of hormones, as well as chemicals in your brain,” Dr. Travis adds. “If you have long-term activation of these hormones, it can actually increase the risk of many diseases.”
Dr. Travis explains that obesity, heart disease, digestive disorders, memory impairment, immune system deficiencies and even fertility problems can all be fueled by stress.
• For more tips on managing stress and the potential health complications, visit gethealthystayhealthy.com.
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