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Face transplant patient meets donor's family

Diane Suchetka, The Plain Dealer Cleveland.com 12/21/2010 06:13
Anna Kasper

Anna Kasper

LAKEWOOD, Ohio -- They were a perfect match. Anna Kasper, who took care of nursing home patients, delivered pizza and cleaned offices, had a down-to-earth goodness, a love of life, a spirit of giving. Connie Culp, who waited tables and painted restaurants before she became the recipient of the first near-total face transplant in the United States, rose above life's hardships, and kept her sense of humor no matter how rough things got. Today, their connection becomes public.

Anna's husband and children revealed this weekend that the Lakewood woman was the donor for the groundbreaking transplant Cleveland Clinic doctors performed in 2008.

The Kaspers made the announcement to give Anna her place in history.

What prompted them to talk about the wife and mother they desperately miss were surprising similarities between the two women, which the family discovered as they learned more about Connie's life after her surgery.

"Connie's like Anna in a lot of ways," says Ron Kasper, Anna's husband, "as far as her personality and how much she enjoys life and how she smiles and is still able to have such a great attitude after everything she's been through and she takes everything in stride.

"She's a very special person. And Anna was, too."

The more they learned about Connie, the more they hoped to meet her.

"I always felt a connection," says Becky Kasper, Anna's 23-year-old daughter.

"We wanted to do it for awhile," Ron, 52, adds. "We just never got up the courage to make the call. We needed time to recover. And Connie needed time to recover."

On Saturday, Connie and Anna's family met for the first time -- privately -- talking, laughing and crying for 90 minutes.

"It was kind of awkward at first, because we didn't know what to say," Connie said Sunday, back at her home in rural southeastern Ohio, in the small town of Unionport.

"But it was great. They're just really nice people. It's awesome, how much we have in common."

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