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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview With Carolyn Thomas
Aired February 21, 2006 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, in one horrible, bloody night her crazed ex-boyfriend killed her mother and left her a woman without a face. Her right eye, cheekbone, nose and upper jaw destroyed by a single gunshot. Now, after two years and six facial reconstruction surgeries Carolyn Thomas takes us inside her amazing journey of courage and faith and tells us how she's inspiring others too.
It's next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Good evening and welcome to another edition of LARRY KING LIVE and a return visit with Carolyn Thomas, extraordinary story. On December 4, 2003, Carolyn's long-time boyfriend, Terrence Dwayne Kelly (ph) shot and killed Carolyn's mother and then he turned the .44 magnum pistol on Carolyn and shot her in the face.
She's back with us tonight to update us on her courageous journey to go back to a normal life. She first appeared on this program last February 17th, a show that was taped two months prior. How different she looks now compared to then. First, how are you feeling?
CAROLYN THOMAS: I feel great, real great.
KING: How have things progressed?
THOMAS: They've been going really well. I'm on my last major surgery and I have two minor surgeries left so everything is going good.
KING: Do you have them done at the same hospital all the time? You keep going back to the same place?
THOMAS: Yes, I do, Methodist Hospital, yes.
KING: Let's go over the shooting and the events that led up to it.
KING: What was going on that day?
THOMAS: That day we had been out to his sister's in Fort Worth.
KING: Your boyfriend's?
THOMAS: Yes, out to his sister's house and the ride home was normal. I really just don't know what happened in between there and our apartment. I know that my mom had went to get something to eat and by the time she returned he thought that someone was in the apartment.
KING: Like a boyfriend?
THOMAS: I guess.
KING: Was this a very serious relationship?
THOMAS: Yes, we had been together for some time, about eight years.
KING: Living together?
KING: Was he very jealous?
THOMAS: Yes, he was. That's one of the things I confused with love was jealousy.
KING: Which is not love?
KING: So, he comes in the house and what happens, you come in together right?
THOMAS: Well, no. I was already in. I was on the telephone and he comes in maybe five minutes after my mother had came in and, you know, he was saying that "Who's in here? There's someone in here." And, my mother and I were trying to reassure him there was no one in there but just us two, us three so and...
KING: What did he do then?
THOMAS: Then he got the gun and went to waving it around and choking me and he fired a shot into the floor of the apartment and we tussled for the gun and that's when he gained the gun and shot her in the stomach and then took me into the living room and shot me.
KING: Had he ever acted violently prior?
THOMAS: Yes, he had.
KING: So you had reason to have some fear?
KING: But not for your life or did you fear for your life?
THOMAS: Yes, I did because he told me on, you know, more than one occasion that "I will kill you" and he also had at one time threatened my family as well.
KING: Why did you stay with him?
THOMAS: I was scared. I was scared and hoping that he would change, you know, because he said that he -- he would change and he wouldn't do it anymore. And, of course, you know, I accepted my share of sorry and, you know, I wish I hadn't.
KING: What happened to him police caught him?
THOMAS: Yes, they did maybe about 20 minutes later.
KING: We'll meet the cop that arrested him in a little while.
THOMAS: Oh, great.
KING: Why did he shoot your mother?
THOMAS: I really don't know. That's what's a mystery to me Larry is that I really don't know why he would shoot her.
KING: Did he possibly think she was covering for you like you were with a guy and she was covering?
THOMAS: That could possibly be it but I just think what it had a lot to do with was that he had been gone for a period of time and knowing that, you know, I might have been dating someone else, you know, and I don't think he could handle that.
KING: What were your first thoughts when you saw your mother get hit with a bullet?
THOMAS: That's when I knew that it was just out of control and I looked at him in his eyes and he looked like the devil. I'm just going to be honest. That's what he looked like to me.
KING: Did she die right away?
THOMAS: No, she didn't. After I was in the living room I remember her asking where was the telephone and I told her that he -- at that time earlier on he had took the phone away from me because I was on it talking and threw it down but eventually we found out that he took the gun, I mean the telephone with him when he left the apartment. So, she tried to go to a neighbor's and...
KING: So, she lived a little while.
THOMAS: Yes, she did.
KING: Did she die in the hospital?
THOMAS: I'm thinking possibly it was in the ambulance when it happened.
KING: All right, now what did he do to you?
THOMAS: From the room, you know, he took me into the living room and I actually do not remember him shooting me. I just remember having the outer body type of experience and waking up and hearing my mother ask about the telephone but I also remember laying, you know, on the floor raising up touching my face and noticing that there was something wrong with it because it felt, you know...
KING: Were you in pain?
THOMAS: To be honest, no, Larry I was not and that's what's so amazing to me is that I was not in pain.
KING: Shock maybe?
THOMAS: Yes, because I'm the type of person if I stub my toe, you know, I'm going to shed a little tear but I just didn't. I didn't feel any pain at all.
KING: And you describe this out of body experience like you were watching it happen?
THOMAS: No, it wasn't like I was watching it happen. It was-- to be honest it was like I was falling down a tunnel real fast and there was God on one side and the devil on the other and at one point I had a chance to ask God to forgive me for all my sins and that's when I woke up and heard my mother saying "Where's the phone"?
KING: And you father were they divorced or?
THOMAS: Yes, they are.
KING: On April 15th the jury found Terrence Kelly guilty of murdering Carolyn's mother and shooting her in the face. The verdict was reached in 30 minutes. The jury deliberated only 20 minutes before sentencing Kelly to two life sentences. Did you ever forgive him?
THOMAS: At the time I forgave him for what he had done to me because that's what the Lord wants us to do but it's been kind of hard for me to forgive him for what he did to my mother. And, I met a lady in a grocery store one day and she said-- asked me that same question and I told her what I'm telling you now and she said, "Vengeance is mine saith the Lord," so she just like put it in the Lord's hands, you know, and go ahead and forgive him.
KING: Yes. Did you have to testify against him?
THOMAS: Yes, I did.
KING: You had to right?
KING: You're the only witness to the crime.
KING: Was that hard?
THOMAS: Yes, it was. It was hard. Thanks to the lawyer there was-- he put like a large box of tissue in the direction that uh...he was sitting in so I didn't really see his face much.
KING: And that was the first time you were in the same room with him in the courtroom?
THOMAS: Yes. Yes.
KING: We'll be right back with Carolyn Thomas. We'll then meet the police officer who made the arrest and then the doctor who takes amazing care of her. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Carolyn, is this the gun that Terrence pulled on you several days before and pointed it at you?
THOMAS: Yes, it is.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did he do with the gun?
THOMAS: Pointed it at me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did he say?
THOMAS: You know I'll kill you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THOMAS: I have decided to take my life back and I want you to know that you no longer have control over me. I am grateful to God that I still have my life and with love I can honestly say that I forgive you. The world now knows me as the woman without a face. I'd rather be remembered as the woman who will be a survivor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with the extraordinary story of Carolyn Thomas. By the way, the National Domestic Abuse Hotline and we should all have this number listed is 1-800-799-SAFE. That's 1-800-799-7233. When did you first look in the mirror?
THOMAS: When I was in a rehab center there in Temple, Texas and I just wanted to know, like I had a friend that had came to visit and he had seen it and I asked him how it looked. He said it kind of looks -- it looks bad. So, I wanted to know for myself how it looked, so I waited until I was alone and undid the bandages and saw it.
KING: And then what?
THOMAS: I immediately started crying and then I was more or less like why did God let me live, you know, through that? I was just really confused as to why he would do something like that.
KING: Now the last time you were here your mouth was wired shut. I remember that.
THOMAS: Yes, it was.
KING: And you were fed through a tube going directly to your stomach.
KING: What is it now? What is that thing in your neck?
THOMAS: The trach -- tracheotomy. I no longer have the feeding tube, had that...
KING: You can eat?
THOMAS: Yes, thank you, yes. I've been eating, doing a lot of that but, yes, they took the tube out and the trach will come out on the last surgery in February.
KING: And that will be the end of it?
THOMAS: Yes, other -- the major surgery, yes.
KING: What do you say to women in a relationship that's abusive? You put up with it for eight years.
THOMAS: I'll tell them to take advantage of the things that I didn't, you know. I -- I never took the time to call 911 or the National Domestic Hotline or our local shelter. I didn't do any of that, not saying that if I had did that things would be different but there are people that are trained and they -- they could, you know, have guided me out of that situation a lot more safely.
KING: He was in prison for three of the years you were together right?
THOMAS: Yes, he was.
KING: Why didn't you leave him then?
THOMAS: Because when he came home he said that he, you know, he was going to change and as always I believed what he said and I wanted him to change so badly that...
KING: Yes. Did he have a job?
THOMAS: No, not then. I was harassing him about getting a job at the time, you know, or a trade or some such.
KING: Did he and your mother get along?
THOMAS: I would say she -- she -- they were OK. I wouldn't say they were buddy-buddy, no.
KING: Was most of the violence over jealousy?
THOMAS: Yes, it was.
KING: He suspected anything?
THOMAS: Yes. I wasn't allowed to speak to his male friends or any of my cousins that were males. It was just really, really tough.
KING: If you went out to dinner and someone looked at you, he would get mad?
THOMAS: Yes, he would think, you know, I was looking at them.
KING: The first time he hit you didn't that warn you off?
THOMAS: Yes, it did. I mean that was a warning then but it wasn't like we had those outbreaks all the time. It wasn't constant but still yet I understand what you're saying by hitting me the first time, yes.
KING: Was there drinking involved?
THOMAS: I would say more drugs than alcohol.
KING: How do people react now when they see you?
THOMAS: Now when they see me it's more I would say open-armed would be the best way to say it. They're just really proud of me. Everybody in the town of Waco are proud of me and all over.
KING: (INAUDIBLE) you've got young cousins and the like.
KING: Are they openly accepting this? Do they love their cousin Carolyn?
THOMAS: Yes, they do, yes.
KING: Do you take that bandage off at night?
THOMAS: When I'm at home by myself I do sometimes to really just get down and eat, yes.
KING: Is it very hard to look at?
THOMAS: Now, no, it's not hard to look at.
KING: Your mouth is swollen on the bottom right?
THOMAS: Yes. That swelling will go down eventually, yes. KING: I will ask the doctor about that. You did Oprah the last time you were on this show.
KING: Are you thinking of writing a book? What are you going to do with your life?
THOMAS: It's given some thought. I've been going out giving speeches on domestic violence and trying to save as many lives as I could, you know, letting women know what's out there and what to take advantage of.
KING: What's wrong with the right eye?
THOMAS: I just had a prosthetic eye put in there and on the surgery, on the 2nd they will open it up just a little wider so it's still kind of closed a little.
KING: Prosthetic, that's not a real eye then?
KING: They put a fake eye in?
THOMAS: Yes, a prosthetic eye.
KING: Left eye is fine?
KING: Where did the bullet hit?
THOMAS: The bullet went in at a diagonal angle.
KING: From the eye down?
THOMAS: Yes, yes.
KING: It's amazing when you look at it to think that you had no pain.
KING: How many surgeries have you had?
THOMAS: I've had five to date and the one in February will make six.
KING: And have most of them or all of them been done by Dr. Alfred?
THOMAS: Yes, they have.
KING: Because we'll be meeting him in a little while.
KING: Our guest is Carolyn Thomas, an extraordinary story. That number again of the domestic abuse hotline, the National Domestic Abuse Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE. That's 1-800-799-7233.
Officer Tyrone Robinson, the Waco, Texas Police patrolman, he and his partner were first on the scene. He'll be with us next. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THOMAS: You took away from me the one thing that I loved so dearly and that was my mother. I miss her. I miss her so much. My life will never be the same because of what you did. It is the little things about my mother that I miss so much. At least you get to see your mother even if you are in prison. Even though my mother is not here with me physically she will always be in my heart.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THOMAS: You know they didn't think -- they didn't think I would live. The physicians who met my immediate medical needs, you know, at the time I overheard them saying that she would not most likely make it. You know my partner thought that he could control whether I live or die but you know what, God showed him. God showed him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Carolyn Thomas, shot in the face by her boyfriend, lost one eye and much of the soft tissue and bone tissue that make up the human face and is in the process of undergoing a series of reconstructive surgeries.
Joining us now from Waco is Officer Tyrone Robinson, the Waco, Texas Police patrolman. He and his partner were first on the crime scene where Carolyn and her mom had been shot. How had you heard of this? Did you get it on police radio officer?
OFFICER TYRONE ROBINSON, WACO, TEXAS POLICE: I got it from the dispatcher, sir.
KING: And did she get a 911 call?
ROBINSON: We got a routine call and when I say routine it was shots fired, a discharge of a firearm and when we got the discharge of a firearm as we were halfway to the apartment complex we received another call from the downstairs, the person that lived downstairs from Carolyn that shots were being fired in the apartment. We received that as we turned into the apartment -- just before we got to the apartment complex.
KING: You or your mother, Carolyn, didn't call 911 though right? THOMAS: No, we did not.
KING: And the neighbor heard this and called?
KING: So, the neighbor didn't see you or anything?
KING: OK. When you first got to the scene, officer, tell me what you saw.
ROBINSON: When I first got to the scene it was -- people were running outside of the apartment and when they came outside of the apartment they were telling us that the shooter was possibly inside, still inside and these were neighbors and people who lived in the complex.
Right then me and my partner thought we had an active shooter situation and so an active shooter means that the person is still there. So, we went up the stairwell and as we went up the stairwell there's a foyer that's in the middle of the stairwell to get upstairs to Carolyn's apartment and that's where her mother was laying on the -- in the stairwell and she was trying to talk to us.
But at that time, we thought the suspect was still inside the apartment so we then went with our guns drawn up to the apartment to see if he was still in there and we had to jump over Carolyn's mom to get up there.
KING: Did you also call for an ambulance for Carolyn's mom?
ROBINSON: Yes. Well, we did that after we cleared the apartment. Our first -- we're trained as being an active shooter to find the aggressor, so we didn't do that until after we went inside the apartment to make sure that no one else was in or the suspect was not still inside.
KING: The suspect was not there right?
ROBINSON: No, he was not there.
KING: What did he run away, Carolyn?
THOMAS: Yes, he did.
KING: When was he caught by the way, Officer Robinson?
ROBINSON: Well, this turned into a shooting spree and what happened after he shot Carolyn, well Carolyn's mother and then her, evidently he used a telephone to call his mother.
His mother which lived a block away, came to pick him up. She comes to pick him up. She does not know what's going on. She picks him up, takes him about two blocks away, taking him to her house. This is where he fires at her inside of the vehicle.
KING: At his own mother?
ROBINSON: At his own mother, yes sir.
KING: Who apprehended him?
ROBINSON: Another officer from the district, Officer Ashworth was the one that apprehended him.
KING: Did he shoot at any police officers?
ROBINSON: No, he did not.
KING: What did you see when you saw Carolyn's face?
ROBINSON: When I first walked up after clearing the apartment, I turned back around to look at Carolyn and she reached up. She was grabbing -- grabbing at herself and trying to feel around and she felt my partner, she kind of reached at him. When she reached at him that's when I got on the radio frantically to let the paramedics know that they needed to hurry up.
KING: Did you think she was going to die?
ROBINSON: I thought she had already. I thought she was deceased sir.
KING: Because with the bullet the way it entered and left and...
ROBINSON: Yes, the trauma, I mean the blood, I mean the -- the bone, the bone fragments, I thought she was deceased and the movement kind of startled us, startled me and the other officer both and I got on the radio and frantically called for paramedics to hurry up.
KING: And you arrive on this bloody mess and see everything. What goes through a police officer's mind? What are you thinking then where's the suspect? What's wrong with these people? What happened? What goes through your mind?
ROBINSON: I think the adrenalin in a situation like this, sir, is so high that you're at a point of I want to catch the suspect and we worked real well that night together as a group, as a unit apprehending him, you know, very quickly and, like I say, these shots were almost simultaneously.
I mean Carolyn -- Carolyn getting shot and her mother and then down the street a block another shooting, so we didn't know if we had two shootings. We didn't realize it was the same suspect with both.
KING: Did you attend his trial?
ROBINSON: Yes, sir I testified at his trial.
KING: You had to testify as to what you found at the scene right? ROBINSON: Yes, sir.
KING: Do you come into a lot of domestic violence?
ROBINSON: Yes, sir. That's probably one of the most routine calls that we have is domestic violence.
KING: And how are you trained to deal with it?
ROBINSON: Each domestic violence case, Mr. King, is different and you have to approach them. Each one is different. I mean some are violent. Some are not violent. Some -- but you have to approach them. There's different ways and there's not really a set way to approach a domestic violence situation.
KING: We'll take a break and come right back with more with Officer Tyrone Robinson and Carolyn Thomas, who is recovering well. And then, after the officer leaves, we'll be joined by Dr. Eugene L. Alfred, the M.D., the facial plastic surgeon who has done such a remarkable job. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THOMAS: Can you even imagine what it -- what it was like for me to wake up in the hospital and learn that not only was my mother dead but that I had lost half my face and had also during this time I had learned that my grandfather had died. I wasn't even able to say goodbye to them or attend the funerals.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THOMAS: I feel a lot more emotional than anything. I'm not nervous or scared, just emotional, you know. It's an emotional time. Your family and friends are happy that I'm getting ready to have this, you know, change in my life and we're all excited about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Carolyn Thomas, shot in the face by her boyfriend. He is serving two life sentences. Her mother was killed. The boyfriend then shot his own mother, she's still living. And remaining with us is officer Tyrone Robinson, the Waco, Texas police patron. He and his partner were first on the crime scene where Carolyn and her mom had been shot. Have you kept in touch with Carolyn?
ROBINSON: No, I haven't. But I would like to thank her for the Christmas card that she sent me. That was an emotional moment for me.
KING: Do you tend to put cases behind you when they're over?
ROBINSON: You try to. I think this was -- as we can all see right now, that this was a different case, and you try the best to put it behind you, but you have a person who's still here. And I'm thankful to God that she's still here. And, you know, emotions run high. A lot of people think we don't have emotions and think we don't care. And so I'm kind of here to let Carolyn know that we do care.
KING: Carolyn, do you know that?
THOMAS: I do now.
KING: Are you aware that they're there to protect and try to help you?
KING: Did you have a different opinion of police before that?
THOMAS: No, I didn't.
KING: But you do have a lot of respect for them?
THOMAS: Yes, I do.
KING: Usually in domestic violence, officer, the policemen can face danger, right? Many policemen are hurt, some killed, when they're covering an argument between a man and a wife?
ROBINSON: Yes, sir and those type of situations, a lot of times you get the -- if it's a woman that called, you get her turning towards you, and you're trying to settle the dispute. And then you not only have one suspect who was called about, but you have -- now you have two people that you're trying to deal with.
KING: All right. You also have to take control of the scene, wait for detectives to come. There's a lot going on in this quick space of time, right?
ROBINSON: Yes, sir. Luckily in the police world, we take care of each other real silently. And you never know how close you are until you get into situations like this. I mean, I had a police sergeant, Sergeant Price (ph), who took me out to the car and gave me a cup of coffee because it was a real emotional moment.
KING: Now, the first time you saw Carolyn after that was in court, right?
ROBINSON: Yes, yes, yes.
KING: Were you shocked at how -- at first, that she was living, and second, at how well they were doing with her?
ROBINSON: I still am shocked. After seeing -- after being at the scene, I'm still just thankful to God, and still amazing that she's still here.
KING: Describe, without being too crass, the scene as you saw it. What did her face look like? ROBINSON: It didn't look like she had a face. And you've got to realize, Mr. King, that the paramedics were trying to attend to her, so I only saw her for a few seconds because they were coming up there and they were getting stretchers out, and trying to move furniture, just trying to get her medical attention. And it was nothing there, but she still had life.
KING: In those few seconds, what did you see, bone crushed?
ROBINSON: Yes, and that was after I came back to clear the apartment rooms and that's when I saw bone fragments on the couch and on the table.
KING: Do you have any memory of this, Carolyn?
THOMAS: I remember grabbing someone's ankle. I remember that. And after that, everything is blank.
KING: Was that your ankle?
ROBINSON: No, that was my partner's. As a matter of fact, I was standing right next to him, and when she reached up at him, she touched him and he hollered at me, I was standing on the other side of the room, and he said, tell the ambulance to step it up.
KING: Did they get there real fast?
ROBINSON: Yes, sir, they responded very quickly.
KING: And did they get her to the hospital real fast?
ROBINSON: They got her to the hospital as quick as they could. Like I said, they had to move furniture. And the way the apartments are made, you have to turn corners with stretchers and such. So they did the best they could.
KING: Did you have to go to the hospital?
ROBINSON: No, I didn't, no, sir.
KING: What do you do after a scene like that?
ROBINSON: Call my pastor.
KING: And you have to file the endless amount of reports that policemen have to file, right?
ROBINSON: Yes, sir. You have to file a report, and that takes, you know, that takes some more time. But like I say, you have -- we have good support unit who help you through that.
KING: How is your partner doing?
ROBINSON: He's doing OK, he's doing OK. Officer Graham is doing just fine.
KING: But he has a tough time talking about it, right?
ROBINSON: He has a real tough time talking about it, because when we do a building search move, a corner move coming inside of a door, and so when he turned the corner, he -- he's first to see Carolyn. I come right behind him to cover him, inside of the door.
KING: When he shot your mother, Carolyn, did you hear the sound?
THOMAS: Yes, I did.
KING: That, you remember?
KING: But you don't remember the sound of it hitting you?
THOMAS: No, I don't.
KING: Is shock fairly common, Officer Robinson?
ROBINSON: Yes, yes, yes, sir.
KING: So it's not surprising she didn't feel any pain?
ROBINSON: No, it's not surprising.
KING: Boy, thank you so much for being with us, officer. I appreciate you taking the time.
ROBINSON: Thank you, Mr. King.
KING: Officer Tyrone Robinson of Waco. He and his partner first on the crime scene where Carolyn and her mother were shot. And when we come back, we'll meet the man who put it all together, Dr. Eugene L. Alford, plastic surgeon. Carolyn will remain with us, of course. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THOMAS: There was a time when I thought I would always be known as the woman without a face. Fortunately I foresee myself as the woman -- I perceive myself as a woman who has transformed on many levels and will continue. I am the woman who survived.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The first bullet her boyfriend fired inside their Waco apartment would kill her mother, 50-year-old Janice Reeves.
THOMAS: She's the reason I get up every day.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the reasons Carolyn Thomas is putting her life and hope for recovery into the hands of a medical dream team.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bullet entered just above her right eye. And traversed down and exited from just in the middle of her cheek.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dr. Eugene Alford will lead the Methodist Hospital team that will try to reconstruct the 34-year-old's face.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: The correct pronunciation is Carolyn. I've been pronouncing it Caroline. But she accepts that, right?
KING: Carolyn Thomas. Shot in her face by her boyfriend, lost one eye, and much of the soft tissue and bone tissue that make up the human face, undergoing a series of reconstructive surgeries. The man doing those surgeries joins us now from Houston.
Dr. Eugene Alford, M.D., a facial plastic surgeon. He works with the Face To Face Program at Methodist Hospital in Houston. How did you come upon this case? How did Carolyn get to be your patient?
DR. GENE ALFORD, HOUSTON SURGEON PERFORMING CAROLYN THOMAS' FACIAL SURGERY: Well, Larry, Carolyn was first referred to me by the national program through the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. Members of the academy donate their time and talents to perform reconstructive surgery on survivors of domestic violence. And I was called and asked if I would accept this challenge. And with my friends, the five other surgeons that are participating in Carolyn's care, we put together the right team to take care of the defect that she -- and restore the injury that she suffered.
KING: Is this done gratis?
ALFORD: Every bit of this work is pro bono. To this point, Methodist Hospital, Dr. Jeffrey Friedman (ph), Dr. Michael Klebuc (ph), and Charlie Soparkar (ph) and Dr. Don Cohen (ph) and Dr. Kathy Frazier (ph) have put together about $450,000 worth of service for Carolyn's reconstructive surgery at no cost to her.
KING: When you first saw her did you think that you could help?
ALFORD: Larry, when you first see a patient that's suffered a devastating loss like Carolyn has, you're still shocked. But you do have to go into the doctor mode and take an assessment of what's present, what's missing, and develop a judgment and skill that allows you to decide if it can be reconstructed.
After, you know, 30 minutes of examination, and talking to Carolyn, I felt like we could rebuild her face and restore her such that she can be a participating member of society again and not feel self-conscious about her appearance.
KING: The last time on this show you talked about the ten-foot test. People should be able to see her from ten feet away and not notice anything out of the ordinary. How long until she'll pass that test?
ALFORD: Carolyn has one more major surgery. And then the prosthodontist at the hospital here in Houston will create for her a prosthetic nose. And at that point, she will pass the ten-foot test without a doubt.
KING: That swollen mouth will go down?
ALFORD: Part of her next surgical procedure will be to rotate the mouth a little bit more towards the middle so the swelling will go down. We've had to move her upper lip, the remnant of her upper lip, it was sewn to the side of her face over by her left ear. Through a series of two surgeries already we've moved it from by her left ear over to where it's supposed to be. We've got one more little rotation to get it lined up the way we really want it to.
KING: How about her teeth?
ALFORD: Dr. Cohen and Dr. Frazier will be at her next surgery placing dental implants into the reconstructed upper jawbone, and then they will create a bridge or denture that will go in something in the next two or three months.
KING: How have you handled all this, Carolyn?
THOMAS: I'm handling it pretty good. It's still kind of hard for me to see, you know, that the aftermath of the swelling and stuff, but I think it's great.
KING: She's been a good patient, Dr. Alford?
THOMAS: Oh, Larry, she's been perfect. Her attitude is what has helped with her healing so much. She's done everything we've ever asked her to do. She has an amazing strength that not all patients have. And I think that's helped her to heal very quickly and very successfully.
KING: Attitude is important in anything in medicine, including plastic surgery? How you feel will determine how you do?
THOMAS: Absolutely. I think that's a big component of any result of surgery. If you expect good things to happen, good things will happen in most cases.
KING: What was the number one problem you faced in Carolyn's case?
ALFORD: The number one problem was restoring a foundation with which we could rebuild her face. The left upper half of her jaw was completely missing. And so our first step was to take -- the fibula, a bone from her leg, and Dr. Friedman and dr. Klebuc took the fibula out and transferred it from her leg and rebuilt the upper jaw. That gave us a foundation for all the future reconstructive procedures.
KING: All right. Are any of these possibly life threatening?
ALFORD: Any surgical procedure has the potential of being life threatening. Her first surgery lasted about 14 hours. And so from a standpoint of difficulty and risk, the first surgical procedure had the most risk associated with it.
KING: We'll be right back with more. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THOMAS: I'm ready to get in there and get the surgery started. I'm not nervous at all. I'm excited. I've got a lot of people praying for me. That means a lot to me.
KING: We're back with Carolyn Thomas and Dr. Eugene L. Alford. Do you use earlier pictures of her face as it was prior to help with this?
ALFORD: Yes, sir, we have taken pictures throughout her surgical procedures to document it. We did get pictures from Carolyn of how she appeared before her injury. We're limited a little bit in that the tissue that's been destroyed can never be brought back. And I cannot create a face that -- exactly like the one she had, that she was born with. But certainly we want to create a face that looks like the person Carolyn was before she was shot.
KING: We're told that if the doctors at Methodist Hospital had charged for the surgeries, Carolyn's bill would be about $350,000. Under the Face-to-Face Program it's all done for free. How does Face- to-Face work?
ALFORD: Face-to-Face is in Washington, D.C. It is part of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. Patients are referred to the program from domestic violence counselors. They go through counseling after having left a domestic violence situation. Once the counselor feels that they've attained the skills to not reenter a domestic violence situation, and they have a -- apparent facial injury that can be restored, they're referred to the program, and then from there referred to a physician in the area in which they live.
KING: And you've done 17 on your own of these so far, right?
ALFORD: Yes, sir.
KING: Of all the ones you've ever done, is she number one in the way she looked before?
ALFORD: Carolyn is by far the most difficult domestic violence case that I've ever taken care of. She also is number one as far as attitude goes. She's been through these five surgeries with one or two more left to go, and has just been fabulous. But certainly she had the most devastating injury.
KING: How do you explain this, Carolyn, that your attitude is so good.
THOMAS: I would just say my faith in God. That's it. I just keep the faith.
KING: And you go into these optimistically?
THOMAS: Yes I do. I have a cross that I take into every surgery. And when they put me to sleep, they take it out. But when I wake up, it's there.
KING: Did any surgeons prior to you, Dr. Alford, think they couldn't do work with her?
ALFORD: Carolyn had been seen by several other physicians that felt her injuries were beyond their capabilities. The other part is, is that we had a partner in the Methodist Hospital. Understanding that this is a several hundred thousand dollar expenditure on the part of the hospital, that's a unique aspect that can't be overlooked is the Methodist Hospital accepted Carolyn's care and is providing that care for her at no charge. And I think that's a unique benefit that we have here in Houston.
KING: Do you know while you're doing surgeries like this how they'll come out?
ALFORD: We have to envision things, much like a professional golfer would envision a golf shot, we envision how our surgery's going to turn out. Most times it does turn out the way we envision, yes.
KING: Now, there are some plastic surgeons who will only work cosmetically, right? They won't work on injuries?
ALFORD: Yes, sir. That's correct.
KING: And are there others, are there others who just do injuries and not cosmetic?
ALFORD: There are, yes, sir.
KING: Do you do both?
ALFORD: I do both. Reconstructive and cosmetic surgery.
KING: Is cosmetic, just by the nature of it, easier?
ALFORD: You know, to say that one is easier than the other, I think takes away from one or the other. Every patient is individually very important, and they deserve the same level of care. Is it easier? From a technical standpoint, maybe yes, it is. But from the individual importance, no, it's no different.
KING: But if you do work in reconstructive, you will get the call at 3:00 in the morning, right, to come to the car accident?
ALFORD: You do get those phone calls.
KING: And do you have to deal with scenes that are often distasteful, right?
ALFORD: We often deal with situations that involve violence. And no one in the medical field has any enjoyment of violence. So you have to deal with some of the issues that the individual has suffered, the results of a motor vehicle accident, the results of a domestic violence situation, that plays a part on their psyche and how you as a physician must care for them.
KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments of this extraordinary story with Carolyn Thomas and Dr. Eugene Alford. Don't go away.
KING: We're back with Carolyn Thomas and Dr. Eugene Alford. How much pain after these surgeries, Carolyn?
THOMAS: Not really too much pain at all. Just a lot of swelling.
KING: Boy, that's surprising Dr. Alford. One would guessed there would be a lot of pain.
THOMAS: You know, every patient approaches pain differently. And I think that Carolyn has a lot of internal strength that allows her to deal with pain and minimize it, whereas other patients don't deal with it as well.
KING: Are you going to date?
KING: Is she going to have her life back, doctor?
ALFORD: Larry, I'm quite sure she will.
KING: What do you make of that facial transplant in France?
ALFORD: You know, certainly it's not appropriate for Carolyn. I think that we don't know the risk benefit analysis yet. Transplants for heart failure, for liver failure, it's a life-or-death situation. And absolutely, that is indicated. However, to suffer the effects, or the risks of immunosuppression in a non-life threatening situation, that's a very, very difficult question to answer. And may not be the thing that, ethically, we as American surgeons would do.
KING: You would have to deal with that from an ethical standpoint as well?
ALFORD: Absolutely. Immunosuppression, which is necessary for a transplantation to survive, has risks associated with it. And those risks have yet to be defined. But when you're dealing with a life-or- death situation, clearly the benefit is greater than the risk.
KING: Back in February, you said Carolyn would look worse before she would looked better. Is that true? ALFORD: I think it was. At the point in which her lips were sewn together, and she -- after her third operation, and her face was immensely swollen, I think that she certainly did look worse at that point.
KING: When's her next surgery?
ALFORD: February 2nd.
KING: And after that there will be one more?
ALFORD: Possibly one more. I really think this is the last major surgical procedure. Her other surgeries will be likely be for placement of her dentures, and those will be done in the -- Dr. Cohen's office.
KING: And she'll be able to walk around without a mask and without with a trach?
ALFORD: Yes, sir, absolutely.
KING: That's only a couple of weeks away.
KING: You must be excited.
THOMAS: Yes, I am.
KING: You've got family members that have supported you through this?
ALFORD: Yes, an uncle and an aunt, and a cousin in Houston, Texas also.
KING: What do you think of all these surgeons?
THOMAS: I think they're terrific. That's why I call them the dream team.
KING: Your own dream team, right?
KING: And all of you will assemble on February, or just you, Dr. Alford?
ALFORD: It will be myself, Dr. Soparkar and Dr. Cohen.
KING: And the dental implants will happen in the office?
THOMAS: The original implants will be placed February the 2nd, and then they will be uncovered and the denture placed in Dr. Cohen's office.
KING: As you look back on this, will this be your crowning achievement, doctor?
ALFORD: I think that without a doubt, Carolyn has been a reward to me, just to meet her. The results of her surgery, I think, will speak for themselves.
KING: Would you ever talk to Terrence again, Carolyn?
KING: No desire to?
KING: You hope he spends his life in prison?
KING: Is he in prison without parole?
THOMAS: I'm not sure of that.
KING: But you don't want to see him or talk to him?
KING: Or have any forgiveness?
KING: Carolyn, thank you very much. So glad to see you looking better. Dr. Alford, I don't know what to say except congratulations on some amazing work.
ALFORD: Thank you very much.
KING: That was Carolyn Thomas, shot in the face by her boyfriend, lost an eye and much of the soft tissue and bone tissue that make up the human face. Getting better.
That's it for tonight's edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Stay tuned for news on your most trusted name in news, CNN. Good night.
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