First full-face transplant turns heads

A team of 30 doctors has announced that they have successfully performed the world’s first full-face transplant on a man whose face was severely damaged in a shooting accident five years ago.

The operation was completed in March in Barcelona, at the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital, after almost 24 hours of surgery. The 31-year-old Spanish man who underwent the surgery, known as Oscar, reportedly thanked his doctors at a press conference for giving him a second chance to enjoy “the little things” in life.

Before the surgery in March, Oscar was unable to breathe, speak or eat on his own, due to his shooting accident. After nine previous reconstructive operations, it became apparent that a complete facial transplant might be his only option.

After two years of waiting for a suitable donor, doctors extracted bone and tissue from a deceased man near Oscar’s own age, placed them in preservation liquid then transplanted lips, teeth, nose, jaw, cheekbones and tear ducts onto Oscar. His body rejected them twice, but doctors were able to treat him successfully. The risk of rejection remains, and he will need to take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of his life - drugs which will increase his risk of developing cancer and other illnesses such as diabetes.

Oscar is now able to move his upper eyelids, jaw, eyebrows and parts of his cheeks. He has reportedly gained feeling in most of his face and hair has started to grow. The surgeon said the new face does not look like the donor’s. “We were afraid of that but it doesn't at all. The family believes that he looks quite like he did before.”

Oscar has not yet been released from hospital and allowed home. Doctors say that he is expected to recover up to 90% of normal movement and sensitivity over 12 to 18 months of rehabilitation. ~ Independent, Jul 27; BBC News 23 Apr

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