In “Beyond Recognition“, The Verge tells the incredibly powerful story of Carmen Tarleton, a 45-year old woman who underwent facial transplant surgery in February 2013, 8 years after her ex-husband attacked her in the middle of the night with a bottle of lye and a baseball bat. It is also the story of Cheryl Denelli-Righter, the woman whose face was donated to the reconstruction by her grieving daughter just minutes after her death and the wonderfully unexpected friendship that blossomed between the donor’s daughter and the recipient, both of whom recognize and treasure what they’ve given to each other.
And she has found lifelong friendship in the most unlikely of places: with Marinda Righter, whose mother’s sudden death allowed Tarleton to open a new chapter. “I wanted to respect the family’s rights, and their right to grieve … but I really wanted to know so much about [Cheryl],” Tarleton says of meeting Righter for the first time in April. “And when I met Marinda, she was so beautiful, and accepting, and peaceful. The two, who talk regularly on the phone, are something of an unconventional pairing among face transplant cases thus far, as donor families typically opt for anonymity or else remain at a comfortable distance from the patient now wearing their loved one’s skin. But for both Tarleton and Righter, the resurrection of Cheryl’s face has been an unimaginable gift. “It’s quite a beautiful thing to have someone’s exterior body, especially their face,” Righter says. “I can’t help but think… I could just go up to Vermont and give my mom’s face a kiss.”