Face Transplant Patient Recovering Well, Surgeon Says

Brigham and Women's is not the only institution to have such a policy, however. Dr. L. Scott Levin, chief of plastic, reconstructive, oral and maxillofacial surgery and a professor of orthopaedic and plastic surgery at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., said that Duke has been IRB approved to conduct a face transplant operation, and they, too, have a policy that would limit the patient pool to those already taking immunosuppressants.

But he added that if the opportunity arose to perform such an operation -- even on a patient who was not currently immunosuppressed -- he would jump at the chance.

"There is such a huge need in patients who have been burned, unusually disfigured or injured in war," Levin said. "I'd do it in a heartbeat."

And McCarthy said he has no doubt that Brigham and Women's fully weighed the risks and benefits of the surgery and lifelong immunosuppression before going forward.

"You're at a first-rate institution," he said. "These decisions are not going to be made casually."

Face Transplant Operations Go Global

McCarthy added that Frenchwoman Isabelle Dinoire, the world's first patient to have a face transplant, only went on immunosuppressants after her operation in her home country in 2005, and she appears to be doing well today.

After Dinoire became the first recipient of a partial face transplant in November 2005, similar surgeries in various countries have followed.

The first such surgery in the U.S., took place in December and repaired the face of a female patient using facial tissue from a dead female donor.

Most recently, on the weekend of April 4, a team of doctors at Henri Mondor hospital in Paris performed the world's first simultaneous partial-face and double-hand transplant on a 30-year-old burn victim.

Pomahac said on "GMA," that for his most recent patient, as well as for others with horrific facial injuries, the procedure offer hope that other operations simply cannot provide.

"...This is the only option that some of the most difficult patients with the most difficult injuries have," he said.

And he added that embarking on such a surgery takes no small amount of bravery on the part of the patients.

"For patients, in many aspects, this is kind of a jump in the dark," Pomahac said. "It takes a lot of courage on his side to go through it the way that he did."

Roger Sergel and Michelle Schlief contributed to this report.

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