First Almost Entire Face Transplant Performed in the U.S.

December 17, 2008

Ohio (ChattahBox) — Surgeons have performed the first face transplant in the United States at the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Maria Siemionow, the Cleveland Clinic plastic surgeon who performed the marathon procedure, is well known among microsurgery specialists, and colleagues were quick to praise the achievement.

The clinic refused to release any details other than to say that a team led by reconstructive surgeon Maria Siemionow replaced about 80 percent of a disfigured woman’s face with that of a deceased female donor within the last two weeks.

Few details about the patient have been released in advance of a news conference scheduled for today. About 80% of the patient’s face was replaced with skin and muscles harvested from a cadaver.

The idea of performing a face transplant first occurred Siemionow when she was training as a hand surgeon with Breidenbach in Louisville, Ky.

Many of the patients she treated had suffered extensive injuries from burns, and though hands could be repaired and arms and torsos covered by clothes, their faces remained permanently scarred and on display, she wrote in a memoir published last year titled “Transplanting a Face.”

Siemionow and her colleagues at the Cleveland Clinic spent years preparing for the surgery, practicing on animals and doing trial runs on 20 cadavers, said Dr. James Bradley, a professor of plastic surgery at UCLA Medical Center who has seen several presentations by Siemionow at research meetings. About 50 candidate patients have been considered for the procedure.

The first partial face transplant was performed in France three years ago on a woman who had been mauled by her dog. That operation set off an international firestorm, with critics questioning whether it was ethical. Another face transplant was subsequently performed on a European man who was disfigured by a genetic condition, and a third was reported on a Chinese farmer who had been attacked by a bear.

Such transplants are controversial because they are aimed at improving a patient’s quality of life rather than saving it, and recipients must take powerful immune-suppressing drugs for the rest of their lives. Recent improvements in managing the care of transplant surgical patients, including the use of better anti-rejection drugs, have allowed doctors to forge into new areas of tissue transplants, including the hands and face.


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