First U.S. patient gets face transplant

Wed Dec 17, 2008 5:24pm EST
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By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Surgeons have replaced 80 percent of a woman's face, transplanting bone, teeth, muscle and nerve in the first such operation in the United States.

They said the woman suffered severe trauma that cost her an eye, much of her nose and her upper jaw and left her unable to breathe, smell, taste or smile properly.

"You need a face to face the world," Dr. Maria Siemionow, director of plastic surgery research at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, where the operation was performed, told a news conference on Wednesday.

The clinic gave no details about the woman, how she was injured, or who the donor was.

The operation is the fourth done globally. French surgeons replaced much of the face of a woman in 2005 after she was disfigured in an attack by her dog. Last year, her doctors reported that she recovered slowly and steadily, overcoming two episodes of rejection.

In 2006, Chinese doctors performed a face transplant on a 30-year-old mauled by a bear, and a French team did a transplant in 2007 on a 29-year-old man who suffered from von Recklinghausen disease, which deforms the face.

The U.S. operation, which was performed two weeks ago, took 22 hours. A team of eight specialists transplanted bone, muscle, blood vessels and nerves.

"We transferred the skin, all the facial muscles in the upper face and mid-face, the upper lip, all of the nose, most of the sinuses around the nose, the upper jaw including the teeth, the facial nerve," said Francis Papay, chair of dermatology and plastic surgery at the clinic.   Continued...

<p>Maria Siemionow (standing) talks to the media about the Cleveland Clinic surgeons team that performed the nation's first near-total face transplant in the past two weeks, during a news conference in Cleveland, Ohio December 17, 2008. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk</p>