Connie Culp, the first person to receive a face transplant in the US—after being shot by her husband—has died. She was 57, and the cause of her death Thursday was not released, People reports. "Connie was an incredibly brave, vibrant woman and an inspiration to many," said one doctor who particpated in her surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. "She was a great pioneer. Culp lived longer than any other person to receive a face transplant, he said, calling her decision to have the operation "an enduring gift for all of humanity." She endured a 22-hour operation in 2008, four years after her husband disfigured her with a shotgun blast. The world's fourth transplant came only after 30 corrective surgeries. Doctors replaced 80% of her face, including her nose, upper lip, palate and front teeth—all from one donor. Later, Culp received a prosthetic right eye.
First, she had to undergo psychological testing, per the New York Times. One of the questions was about how she'd feel about living with a dead person's face. The surgery was an immediate success, and about 40 have been done around the world since then. Without it, a doctor said, Culp would never have been able to smile or talk again. Culp later said she'd forgiven her husband, who turned the gun on himself after shooting her. He survived and was freed from prison in 2011. "I still love my husband," she once said. "I forgave him the day he did it. I have to." After receiving her new face, Culp had a plea for those put off by people who've been disfigured. "Don’t judge people who don’t look the same as you do, because you never know," she said. "One day it might be all taken away.” (Read more Connie Culp stories.)