Doctors have successfully completed a man’s second face transplant after the first one was rejected by the patient’s body.
How will this two-time face transplant recipient fare?
Face transplants aren’t very common. In fact, there’s only been less than 40 face transplants since the first successful one 12 years ago. One patient, a French man in his 40s, originally received his transplant last year. However, his body began to reject it shortly after the surgery. Surgeons removed the face transplant in November of last year, and he spent two months in a coma without a face. Luckily, a new donor became available and surgeons decided to attempt to give the patient a second transplant.
Isabelle Dinoire, the first face transplant recipient, a year after her successful procedure [Photo by CHU Amiens/Getty Images]
The surgery has already been completed, though it will likely take weeks before doctors can assess if it had been successful. Because there have been few transplants, experts are still building the statistics on the outcomes of these surgeries. If this second transplant turns out to be successful, it may open up the same possibility for other patients.
Transplants aren’t the simplest of procedures, and face transplants aren’t any different. There’s always a chance that the patient’s body will reject the transplant, and patients will need to take immunosuppressive drugs for the rest of their lives. These drugs themselves are also risky. Isabelle Dinoire, the first person to receive a face transplant 12 years ago, died of cancer that her physicians believed to have been complicated by immunosuppressive drugs.
Face transplants may be impressive, but they’re also highly risky due to a lifetime’s worth of medications, complications, infections, surgeries, and the lingering possibility of rejection. Thus, there’s still a need for a lot more research to give patients and face transplant recipients a higher quality of life.
Will the uncommon face transplant procedure improve as time goes on?
The patient who received the second face transplant underwent the operation on January 15 at the Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris. The surgery ended hours later on January 16. Surgeons had doubted that the second transplant would even be possible, but this fledgling procedure seems to be on the right track.
“This transplant demonstrates for the first time that the retransplantation of vascularized grafts is possible in [the] case of chronic rejection,” said the French biomedicine agency and the public hospital system in a statement. “However, this transplant is subjected to severe immunological constraints and only the follow-up at several weeks will confirm the viability of the graft.”
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