Surgeons perform world's first full face transplant

Spanish surgeons performed the world's first full face transplant. And it was a success!
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

When a 30-year old farmer blew his face off with a shotgun five years ago, he had to eat through feeding tubes and had difficulty breathing.

After undergoing a successful operation on March 20, the man got a new face. While partial face transplants have been performed before, the doctors at a Spanish hospital in Barcelona are the first to successfully perform a full face transplant.

Vall d'Hebron Hospital's Dr. Joan Pere Barret led a team of 30 professionals during this 24-hour procedure. During the operation, the young man had new facial skin and muscles, nose, lips, palate, teeth, and cheekbones put on.

And apparently, if you run into the patient, he looks normal.

This man got a new face, but it's not his face. The Daily News reports:

“A person’s facial characteristics are one of his main forms of identity,” said Dr. Scott Haltzman, Brown University clinical assistant professor of psychiatry. “It’s what they see in the mirror and how they conceptualize themselves. So there is definitely the risk of losing some sense of identity with a face transplant. You can wind up with a sense of long-lasting disfigurement or dissatisfaction.”

That seems like it was a risk worth taking for the young man, who couldn't breathe, swallow, or talk after the shooting accident. After nine surgeries failed to rebuild a face for this man, this full face procedure offered a new way to repair the man's face. The Daily Mail reports:

  1. critical parts of the face were taken from dead donor. Everything from veins, arteries, skin, and fat were taken — so were the muscles
  2. the team got the patient ready for the operation
  3. the surgeons began putting the nose, cheek and cheekbones, jaw, mouth, muscles, nerves, and skin onto the patient
  4. final adjustments were made to fuse the two faces together
  5. once the patient is released, he must return for follow-up appointments

In a few weeks, the patient should be able to start using his face again — which means he should be able to eat, talk, and smile.

But Dr. Barret is still worried about the possibility of the patient's body rejecting the transplant. To prevent that from happening, the patient will have to take anti-rejection pills for the rest of his life.

Image: Hospital Vall d'Hebron

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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