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Carmen Tarleton Revisits Church to Share Her Story of Recovery

  • Carmen Tarleton, of Fairlee, middle, talks with Samantha Powers, of Barnard, lower left, and Kim McCarthy, of Woodstock, top left, during a coffee hour following the Sunday service at the United Methodist Church in White River Junction, Vt., February 19, 2017. Tarleton spoke to the congregation about her recovery after being beaten and sprayed with lye by her former husband in 2007. Powers, a therapist who works with victims of trauma, wanted to hear Tarleton speak to learn more about how people survive and thrive after traumatic events. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Carmen Tarleton, of Fairlee, left, talks with Kris Moody, of White River Junction, right, before the service at the United Methodist Church in White River Junction, Vt., Sunday, February 19, 2017. Tarleton, the victim of a 2007 lye attack by her second husband Herb Rogers, spoke congregation about acceptance and forgiveness. Moody is the oldest daughter of Tarleton’s first husband. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Carmen Tarleton, of Fairlee, joins her step father Marshall Van Norden, left, and other members of the United Methodist Church in song in White River Junction, Vt., Sunday, February 19, 2017. Severely disfigured after being attackes with lye by her former husband in 2007, Tarleton received a face transplant in 2013. “The pain he caused me was temporary,” Tarleton told the congregation. “The pain he caused himself is life long.” (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/19/2017 11:41:44 PM
Modified: 2/22/2017 4:34:16 PM

White River Junction — As she approached the altar at the United Methodist Church of White River Junction, Carmen Tarleton was greeted with a hug from Rev. Sandy Van Norden.

The two embraced briefly before Van Norden took Tarleton’s hand and guided her up the stairs to a church lectern, where she turned to face roughly 30 congregants in attendance for Sunday’s service.

“When I spoke here 6 years ago, I was very disfigured and I accepted that,” Tarleton said. “At that time in my life, I did not think there would be an option for my disfigurement.

“I knew that if I wanted to do public speaking, I would have to accept the way I looked. And I did,” she said.

But things have changed dramatically for Tarleton since her 2011 speech at the Methodist church. At the time, she was still recovering from attack by her ex-husband that resulted in chemical burns covering more than 80 percent of her body and required 55 surgeries to stem the damage.

Her assailant, Herbert Rogers, was later sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in jail for the June 2007 attack where he beat Tarleton and doused her with industrial lye.

Standing before the congregation on Sunday, it was clear on the outside that Tarleton had changed.

Shortly after her 2011 appearance at the White River Junction church, she was contacted by her doctor and asked to consider a face transplant. More than a year later, she was chosen as a prospective candidate, and in 2013, she underwent a successful 15-hour procedure at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Although her physical appearance is now different, Tarleton said it’s the change she underwent emotionally and psychologically that is most important to her transformation.

“I feel now that I have recovered. And it’s been a long, long path but it has been something that has given me the ability to look back and appreciate all of the events, including the one when I was attacked,” Tarleton said.

“My life has changed 180 degrees in the last 10 years and I wouldn’t go back and change it now. I’ve grown so much, I’ve learned so much and it makes my life so rich to be able to find new gifts and talents that I don’t even know was an option for me,” she said.

Since receiving her new face, Tarleton has reengaged with music. Her grandmother taught Tarleton to play the piano as a child, and she’s begun to play and write songs again. An album with 10 pieces composed by her will be released soon, along with her second book Many Faces, Same Soul: Creating a Life After Tragedy.

Tarleton is also a new grandmother, and recently had her 2-year old grandson over for New Year’s. “I play a little game with him where I ask him to find my ear, and I don’t have one on the left,” she said to laughs from the audience.

And as she’s taken on more projects and cared for her grandchild, Tarleton said, she’s grown to live with what happened to her. Several times on Sunday, she spoke about a desire to move on and not dwell too deeply on past challenges.

“I find a way to find my own happiness because that’s why I’m here. I don’t ever want to stay here and just be miserable,” Tarleton said. “I don’t tolerate big negativity for very long.”

When she looks back on the pain she suffered after the attack, Tarleton said she can now appreciate how far she’s come and forgive her attacker.

“That doesn’t condone what he did but I didn’t take it personally. I know I didn’t deserve that,” she said. “I knew there was a reason for the event and even though it wasn’t fair … I was faced with it. It wasn’t going to go away because it wasn’t fair.”

Tarleton’s also learned to live with her new face, a process she said took time. Last year, she had her first dream that included her new face, an event that never occurred when she was disfigured.

“It is my face now,” she said. “I do recognize who I am in the mirror because I know who I am and not because of my face.”

For Revs. Sandy and Lory Van Norden, Tarleton’s transformation was touching. During the service, Sandy Van Norden commented that he saw Tarleton out shopping sometime after the attack and the two greeted each other.

“I realized she is one of the few people in the world who recognized me by the sound of my voice,” he said.

Before the transplant, Lory Van Norden said, it was difficult to see Tarleton in so much pain. When Tarleton spoke to the congregation in 2011, she said it had an impact on the congregation, and they’re now happy to see her happy.

“She moved forward past a tragedy that not many people could have handled,” Lory Van Norden said. “She’s just amazing.”

However, Tarleton contests the idea that her struggles are all that different than the more typical ones people around her must deal with. While she might have had to work harder to overcome her challenges, she said, people manage.

“I have enough love. I have enough to have a good life and appreciate who’s around me,” Tarleton said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

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