A New Face To Face The World

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Leader of the team, reconstructive surgeon Dr Maria Siemonow(centre) replacing 80% of the patient's face in a marathon session - pix courtesy of Cleveland Clinic

The newspapers worldwide were awash with the news of a near-total face transplant performed at Cleveland Clinic,USA. This has no doubt set up a wave of excitement among audiences on the real possibility of being given a completely new face. The reality is,  this remains a remote possibility for the masses.

First, some background info on this landmark case. The patient, a woman (name and age withheld by family request) suffered severe trauma to the face leaving only 20% of the face intact (upper eyelids, forehead, lower lip and chin were left). A 30-man team took 22 hours for this surgery, which itself took 20 years to prepare, said the lead surgeon. The face was obtained from a deceased female donor, whose family consented to the transplant.

Why is such an operation a distant possibility for the public in general? The above details already give part of the reason – the enormous amount of time, manpower and cost that will be taken up for such a surgery. Apart from that, such recipients will have to be on powerful immuno-suppressive medications for the rest of their lives and suffer the consequences of their side-effects, the most important being infection. And don’t forget..you need a person to donate his/her face.  That explains why, worldwide, there has been only 4 such operations since the first was performed in 2005.

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