Carmen Tarleton was so badly beaten and burned by her ex-husband that she needed 38 operations and a face transplant. Yet she found a path back to happiness. What helps her – and others like her – retain their essential optimism?

On 10 June 2007, Carmen Tarleton, then 38, was at home with her young daughters in Thetford, Vermont in the US, when her estranged husband broke into the house. Herbert Rogers was looking for a man he supposed she was seeing, but finding no man there, he attacked Carmen. “I just lost it,” he told police later. He beat Carmen with a baseball bat so violently that he broke her arm and eye socket. Then he doused her in industrial-strength lye – a sodium hydroxide solution used in cleaning. One ear, her eyelids and much of her face was burned away. She suffered burns on 80% of her body.

I met Bohdan Pomohač, one of her surgeons, at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “In terms of injuries inflicted by another human being, it’s certainly one of the worst I’ve ever seen,” he told me. Her face was almost completely destroyed; her family were able to recognise it was Carmen only by her teeth.

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