World's first full-face transplant patient hails donor and surgeons
A MAN who underwent the world's full facial transplant has braved television cameras to speak for the first time about his pioneering surgery.
• 'Oscar' with medical team members before speaking on TV. Picture: Getty
The 31-year-old Spaniard, known only as Oscar, thanked his donor's family and the doctors who gave him a new face in March.
A team of 30 experts carried out the 24-hour operation at the Vall d'Hebron University Hospital, in Barcelona, where surgeons lifted an entire face, including jaw, nose, cheekbones, muscles, teeth and eyelids, and placed it masklike onto the man.
The farmer had been left unable to breathe, swallow or talk properly after accidentally shooting himself in the face five years ago, with nine previous attempts to rebuild his face having failed. He had been left with a gaping hole where his mouth and nose should have been.
But he is now expected to be able to regain up to 90 per cent of his facial functions after his features were rebuilt using plastic surgery and micro-neurovascular reconstructive surgery techniques.
The head of the surgical team, Dr Joan Pere Barret, said that Oscar will need between a year and 18 months of physical therapy. However, he was discharged from hospital yesterday.
"I'm very happy to be here and I wanted to express my gratitude to the hospital and medical team and to all donors in Spain especially the family of the man whose face I received," he said.
Oscar is able to drink liquids and eat soft foods, and has been able to speak for the past two months. He has also regained feeling in most of his face and is partly recovering movement of his muscles.
The hospital revealed that he had suffered acute rejection of the surgery twice - once four weeks after the operation and again between the second and third months. Both times, his new face was saved with medication.
Dr Barret, head of the hospital's plastic surgery department, said: "He has readily accepted his new face with no difficulty.
"A few days after the operation he saw his reflection and was able to recognise himself and this will help him return to a normal life. The patient is now able to drink liquids, eat a diet of soft food and his speech is improving daily since the first words he uttered two months ago. He will have to take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of his life and there is a long journey ahead full of physiotherapy appointments but it has been a success."
Oscar's sister said her brother was hoping to leading a normal life. "He is looking forward to doing the normal little things again, the things we do every day without having any problems. Things like walking down the street without people looking at him five times." Doctors said Oscar's appearance did not closely resemble the donor, whose identity must be kept secret under Spanish law.
Neil Huband, spokesman for the UK Facial Transplantation Research Team, which is based at the Royal Free Hospital, in London, said: "It would appear that this has been the most complex of the ten facial transplant operations that have been carried out around the world to date."
UK is ready
OSCAR's was the first full-face transplant performed worldwide, as the ten operations performed previously had been only partial.
The first was carried out on a French woman, who had her nose, cheeks, mouth, lips and chin replaced by donor tissue in 2005. They were torn off by her pet labrador six months earlier.
Other recipients include Li Guo Xing, a Chinese hunter badly disfigured after being bitten by a bear, and Connie Culp, who lost her nose, cheeks, the roof of her mouth and one eye when she was shot by her husband in the US.
The UK Facial Transplantation Research Team says it has been ready to perform a full face transplant for several months. The team, led by Professor Peter Butler, is understood to be looking for donors that provide an exact match for several British patients.
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