The January issue of the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery journal, the official publication of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, contains a report about the first facial transplantation procedure performed in the United States.
Facial transplantation involves an extensive facial tissue grafting and transplant process that is different from traditional facial implants. The procedure is designed to correct disfigurement after severe injuries.
Dr. Maria Z. Siemionow and researchers at the Cleveland Clinic report that, “we are pleased to report an excellent functional, psychological and social outcome for our patient at 8 months following transplantation.”
The facial transplantation procedure was performed in December 2008 at the Cleveland Clinic, but physicians, plastic surgeons, bioethicists and psychiatrists had initiated the research process as early as 2003. This team of experts worked with several organ procurement organizations and developed an informed consent procedure that received approval by 2004.
The patient selected for the procedure was a 45-year-old woman who had suffered severe facial injuries from a short-range shotgun blast. She was left with severe disabilities and had explored several reconstructive facial surgery options, but none of them had produced a desirable outcome. The patient underwent a 22-hour procedure to replace over 80 percent of her facial anatomy. The tissues were prepared from a deceased donor, and the operation included a rehabilitation and physical therapy program so that the patient could adjust to her new face.
According to the ASPS journal’s report, “The patient has recovered well, with no serious complications through eight months of follow-up. With true dedication to her recovery, the patient has regained most facial functions, including sense of smell, speech, and the ability to eat solid foods and drink from a cup.”
To date, nine facial transplants have been performed successfully worldwide, and Dr. Sieminow is enthusiastic about future surgeries that could help disfigured patients enjoy much more favorable outcomes than conventional reconstructive surgery procedures.