WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A 33-year-old Polish man received a face transplant just three weeks after being disfigured in a workplace accident, in what his doctors said Wednesday is the fastest time frame to date for such an operation.
Face transplants are extraordinarily complicated, relatively rare procedures that usually require extensive preparation, typically months or years. But medical officials said the Polish patient’s condition was deteriorating so rapidly that a transplant was seen as the only option. The patient is now being watched for any potential infections.
The patient worked at stonemason’s workshop, where in April a machine used to cut stone severely damaged his face and crushed his upper jaw. The man, identified only as Grzegorz, received intensive treatment at a hospital in Wroclaw, but an attempt to reattach his own face failed, doctors said.
So he was taken to the Cancer Center and Institute of Oncology in Gliwice, which is the only place in Poland licensed to do face transplants and has experience in facial reconstruction for patients disfigured by cancer. Doctors at the center said the 27-hour face and bone transplant was performed May 15 soon after a matching donor was found.
The surgery reconstructed the face, jaws, palate and the bottom of the man’s eye sockets. Pictures show surgery stitches running from above the patient’s right eye, under the left eye and around the face to the neck. The donor was a 34-year-old man.
The head of the team of surgeons and other specialists, Dr. Adam Maciejewski, said it was the world’s first life-saving face transplant carried out so soon after the damage. Face transplants are usually a last resort after conventional reconstructive and plastic surgeries have been tried.
But Maciejewski and other doctors said the surgery was the patient’s only shot at survival — prior to the operation the man faced danger from infections because of the tremendous damage to his mouth area and the skull bone. The man also could not breathe on his own nor eat.
“We assume the surgery will allow the patient to return to normal life,” Maciejewski said. “He will be able to breathe, to eat, to see.”
However, surgeon Dr. Michal Grajek told The Associated Press that the patient still runs a risk of infection, and medical workers are using drugs to ward off any potential viral, bacterial or skin infections.
For now, the patient is in sterile isolation, but he has already started the rehabilitation process. He will stay on special drugs for the rest of his life to prevent rejection of his new face.
A picture of the patient taken Tuesday, six days after the surgery, showed him giving a thumbs-up sign from his hospital bed.
More than two dozen transplants of the face or parts of the face have been performed around the world. The first one was a partial face transplant in a woman maimed by her dog in France in 2005.