Cleveland Clinic performs third successful face transplant

A team of 11 Cleveland Clinic surgeons and specialists successfully performed the health system's first total face transplant and third overall face transplant in May.

The patient was a 21-year-old woman who suffered severe facial trauma and other complications from a gun shot wound as a teenager. Officials did not provide additional information about the patient, the donor or their respective families.

The 31-hour surgery involved replacing 100 percent of the patient's facial tissues, including her scalp, forehead, upper and lower eyelids, eye sockets, nose, upper cheeks, upper jaw, half of lower jaw, upper and lower teeth, partial facial nerves, facial muscles and skin.

Cleveland Clinic officials reviewed the patient's case with the end result of a face transplant in mind because facial reconstruction "would not correct her facial disfigurement or improve her quality of life."

Clinicians used surgical rehearsal, 3-D printing and virtual reality tools to prepare for the surgery.

Officials said the patient is "recovering well and getting accustomed to her new face. She is walking, talking and will begin eating orally shortly." The patient will continue to undergo extensive rehabilitative therapy and physicians will continue to monitor her progress for signs of tissue rejection. She will also be required to remain on immunosuppressant medication for the remainder of her life to prevent rejection.

"Knowing this patient now has the opportunity to live a functional life because of her face transplant is the greatest reward," said Brian Gastman, MD, one of the physicians who helped conduct the surgery. "She now has the full opportunity to re-integrate into society and have a future just like any other young adult. This surgery can give her back the self-esteem and confidence she lost."

Cleveland Clinic performed its first successful face transplant in December 2008.

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