Woman, 57, who underwent the first face transplant in the U.S. dies from an ...

Connie Culp, who became the first person in the US to receive a partial face transplant after surviving a gunshot blast to the face, has died from an infection. 

Culp died 12 years after the groundbreaking operation, aged 57.

The Cleveland Clinic, where her surgery was performed in 2008, said that Culp died on Wednesday at the clinic of complications from an infection that was unrelated to her transplant.

A transplant can help recipients to resume basic tasks such as breathing, eating and speaking, and it can restore important non-verbal communication through smiles and frowns. 

The operation, which has been performed around the world only a few dozen times, can mean a life-long struggle to stop the body rejecting the implanted organ. 

Immunosuppressant drugs, which help stop such a rejection, can leave the person vulnerable to infections and cancers. 

Connie Culp, 57, the first US recipient of a partial face transplant, died from an unrelated infection on Wednesday. She is pictured here in 2010, two years after the surgery

Connie Culp, 57, the first US recipient of a partial face transplant, died from an unrelated infection on Wednesday. She is pictured here in 2010, two years after the surgery

Culp was grievously wounded in 2004 when her husband shot her and then turned the gun on himself. She is pictured here before she was shot

Culp (pictured in 2009) died on Wednesday, 12 years after becoming the first woman to receive a partial face transplant

Culp was grievously wounded in 2004 when her husband shot her and then turned the gun on himself. She is pictured here before she was shot, left, and right after the transplant 

Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic -- (L-R) Dr. Risal Djohan, Dr. Daniel Alam, Dr. Francis Papay and Dr. Maria Siemionow -- completed the operation on Connie Culp in December 2008

Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic -- (L-R) Dr. Risal Djohan, Dr. Daniel Alam, Dr. Francis Papay and Dr. Maria Siemionow -- completed the operation on Connie Culp in December 2008

Dr. Frank Papay, who is the chair of Cleveland Clinic's dermatology and plastic surgery institute and was part of Culp's surgical team, called her 'an incredibly brave, vibrant woman and an inspiration to many.'

'Her strength was evident in the fact that she had been the longest-living face transplant patient to date,' Papay said in a statement. 'She was a great pioneer and her decision to undergo a sometimes-daunting procedure is an enduring gift for all of humanity.'     

Culp was left severely disfigured in September 2004 after she was shot in the face by her husband, Tom Culp, in a botched murder-suicide attempt.   

He shot her from eight feet way, blasting off her nose, cheeks, the roof of her mouth and an eye. 

Only her forehead, chin, parts of her eyelids and her lower lip were left intact. 

Tom Culp was convicted of

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