May 27, 2013 -- A Polish man who received a life-saving face transplant just three weeks after a work accident is already making sounds and practicing swallowing, his doctors said.
The 33-year-old man, identified only as Grzegorz, underwent a 27-hour operation May 15 to reconstruct his jaw, nose, cheeks and eye sockets, which were then swathed with skin from a deceased donor -- a procedure previously reserved for patients who are years out from their disfiguring injuries.
"Usually, the recipients have to wait between one and seven years," said Dr. Adam Maciejewski, who headed the team of surgeons at the Cancer Center and Institute of Oncology in Gliwice, explaining that Grzegorz's injury was particularly extreme. "For obvious reasons, we had to act much faster, as we were saving this man's life."
Grzegorz is making "very good progress" and even got out of bed over the weekend, Maciejewski told The Associated Press. Although he's able to make some sounds, he communicates through writing because the tracheotomy tube that helps him breathe does not allow him to speak.
Earlier this month, Carmen Blandin Tarleton spoke publicly for the first time since her February face transplant. The operation came six years after her estranged husband attacked her with lye, blinding her and leaving her disfigured.
Below is a picture of Grzegorz after surgery. Viewer discretion is advised.
Charla Nash, a Connecticut woman who was mauled by a Chimpanzee in 2009, got her face transplant surgery in 2011.
Maciejewski said Grzegorz's surgery was the first transplant undertaken to save a patient's life. He is still at risk for infection but is expected to recover and live a normal life, doctors said.
Although post-operation photographs show stitches from above his right eye, under his left eye and around his face to his neck, Grzegorz was able to give photographers a thumbs up six days after surgery.
A 33-year-old Polish man whose face was torn off by stone-cutting machinery is shown after undergoing a total face transplant.