"[We] don't know financial impact right now with this case," he said. "It's a huge cost for the first few procedures, but once it becomes a common or more frequent occurrence the cost will go down."
Part of the reason the costs are so high now lies in the fact that doctors are still "testing the waters" in terms of safety and other aspects of the complex procedure. But eventually, he said, the operation could become cost effective.
"Right now they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to do these procedures for people," he said. "I've done 10 to 20 [facial reconstruction] operations on people just to get them to the point not to frighten people when they walk out in public.
"So in that sense, it'll [eventually] be more cost effective to do a one-stage operation with touch-ups here and there to get people back to point where they can function again."
Personal costs are another issue. Dr. Patrick Byrne, director of facial plastics and reconstructive surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, said that the financial burden imposed on future patient for the procedure -- as well as the various immunosuppressants and other drugs they will need for the rest of their lives -- is an issue that begs to be addressed.
"I think insurance will likely challenge covering these procedures," Byrne said. "I would predict ultimately that there's a reasonable chance it'll become part of medical armamentarium that will be accepted by insurance. I think it will happen at some point."
Medical experts have also cited the psychological considerations that must be addressed in a surgery that provides an entirely new face.
"If the procedure alters facial appearance, there are obvious psychological issues that go along with that," Canady said. "You need to have a patient who is not only medically fit to receive the operation, but psychologically fit as well. I am sure that those at the Cleveland Clinic put into this countless hours of counseling. It is a serious commitment."
Jeffrey Spike, professor of clinical ethics at the Florida State University College of Medicine in Tallahassee, said it is critical that the patient is also aware of what the surgery can promise -- and what it cannot.
"I would suggest the surgeon warn her patient: 'This surgery may require a year of rehab to get full function back, and then it may only last 10 years. And even during those nine good years, there will be some tough medical problems requiring hospitalization. Do not think you will be totally normal and healthy.'"
"The question is more whether you are willing to go through this medical type of discomfort -- and may even feel like torture sometimes -- as a substitute for your current social discomfort."
Still, Siemionow said she hopes the most recent step forward will offer other patients a better chance at a normal life.
"We envision that this may open a door for patients who otherwise may not be willing to visit us," she said.
Audrey Grayson and Michelle Schlief contributed to this report.