Monday, May 11, 2009

A familiar face

I know that I'm not the only guy in the world with a trach in my neck. But it feels that way sometimes.

The plastic tube that I felt on my throat when I woke up in the hospital on January 14 is the first trach that I ever saw, to the best of my memory. It was a jarring sight at first, but I've gotten used to it.

For four months, I've been hoping to spot a trach in someone else's neck, but up until a few days ago, that hadn't happened yet.

I guess I'm just not very observant. A woman with a trach nearly identical to mine was one of the biggest newsmakers in the U.S. last week, and I completely failed to notice.

I'm talking about Connie Culp, the Ohio woman who was shot in the face five years ago by her husband, who then shot himself. Ms. Culp survived, but the attack left her without a face.

In December, after 30 surgeries that attempted to reconstruct Ms. Culp's features, she became the nation's first face transplant recipient. One week ago, in a news conference at the Cleveland Clinic, Ms. Culp showed her brand-new face to the world.

The historic face transplant was reported in both of the newspapers I read, and each paper showed before and after photos. In the pre-transplant photo of Ms. Culp that was released –you can find it here, she is clearly sporting a trach very much like the one I have.

A friend mentioned her trach to me a day or so later. I realized that I found the photos upsetting to look at when I saw them in the paper, I only glanced at the reports on the transplant and then quickly turned the page.

I've caught up with Connie Culp's saga since, and I'm inspired by her courage and strength.

She and I both have a lot to be grateful for, including the plastic tubes in our windpipes that make it possible for us to breathe.

Without them, neither one of us would be alive today.

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