"We are all so excited about the fact that it can be done. The question is, 'On whom should it be done? And when should it be done'?" Casas said. "The world, including the United States, is just beginning to understand how face transplants will really fit into our reconstructive efforts."
Culp will likely have another surgery later this year to remove extra glandular tissue around her lower jaw. If surgeons get their wish, the final outcome will look remarkably like a normal face.
"If the promising initial results continue, the operation may become standard of care for extensive facial injuries," according to the report.
In related news from the same journal, researchers from the University of Texas Medical School found that rib cartilage from human donors is an alternative to the patient's own rib cartilage in nasal plastic surgery.
Though the patient's own rib cartilage is the preferred choice, it's not always suitable, researchers write. A review of medical records of 357 patients who underwent nasal plastic surgery using irradiated donor cartilage found a complication rate of 3.25 percent, no greater than the complication rate when the patient's own cartilage was used. Irradiation decreases the chances of rejection, according to the study.
During an average follow-up of nearly eight years, about 94 percent of patients reported being satisfied with their appearance, ability to breathe and quality of life.
The United Network for Organ Sharing has more on transplants.
SOURCES: Wayne Larrabee, Jr., M.D., clinical professor, head and neck surgery, University of Washington, Seattle; Laurie Casas, M.D., clinical associate professor of surgery, University of Chicago, Pritzker School of Medicine, Chicago; November/December 2009, Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery