Face transplant surgery involves replacing all or part of the facial skin and muscles, and requires an extensive team of physicians, nurses, therapists and other experts.
cades clinic surgical teams have successfully performed many facial transplants, with past recipients experiencing increased motor function and an improvement in appearance, though long-term effects remain unclear.
Face transplant recipients must meet stringent medical and psychological criteria before agreeing to accept a transplanted face from a donor, in addition to taking lifelong immunosuppressants that will stop their body from rejecting it.
People undergoing face transplants typically have suffered disfiguring injuries or diseases such as cancer that have affected all or part of the skin, bones and nerves in the face. Furthermore, they may experience acute psychological distress caused by losing facial function and appearance.
Face transplants were initially used to address injuries or diseases untreatable with conventional techniques, severely restricting patients’ lives and participation in society.
Since 2005, surgeons have successfully restored the faces of more than two dozen patients through facial transplantation surgery – commonly referred to as “vascularized composite allotransplantation,” or VCA; an intricate field that includes tissues like skin, bone, tendon cartilage blood vessels muscles nerves.
Surgery to restore facial features typically lasts 12 to 36 hours, depending on how much of their face needs restoring. A team of highly-skilled microsurgery and craniofacial surgery doctors, anesthesiologists, ophthalmologists and other specialists performs this complex procedure.
Face transplants may help restore one’s appearance and function after experiencing severe trauma, burns, disease or birth defects. This procedure involves transplanting facial and scalp tissue from one donor to the recipient and is known as vascularized composite allograft (VCA). The first face transplant was performed in 2005.
Prior to surgery, doctors must assess a patient physically, mentally and emotionally by conducting blood tests, X-rays and CT scans of their head and neck area. From these assessments, doctors can develop an optimal surgical plan.
Face transplant candidates must also be in good health and taking medications to suppress the body’s immune system in order to avoid rejection of transplanted tissues.
After being approved as an appropriate candidate for face transplant surgery, you will need to arrange travel and lodging arrangements. Your surgeon will suggest an accommodation suitable for recovery during their consultation process.
The transplant procedure can be both lengthy and complex. After shaving the recipient’s face, an alcohol-based pen is used to mark areas for incisions by their surgeons. Next they remove damaged skin from both scalp and skull regions including muscle and fat tissues as well as cartilage of ears and nose cartilage before connecting blood vessels for donation of lifeblood to keep alive this new tissue.
Collecting objective data on patients who have undergone face transplant surgery can be challenging, with available reports often drawn from media coverage or short, anonymized medical reports. Furthermore, opinions from surgical teams as well as the patients themselves often add their perspective to this data set.
Surgery to reconstruct facial skin and muscles from donors is an intensive and intricate process, requiring considerable skill, precision, coordination, blood loss during the procedure as well as severe post-surgery graft edema and infection as possible postoperative side effects.
Though facial transplantation presents many unique challenges, the results have been encouraging. Patients who have undergone transplantation have achieved motor and sensory recovery as well as satisfactory aesthetic results. Some patients experienced rejection episodes which were treatable by medication; opportunistic infections often contribute to morbidity as a source of morbidity.
Though strides have been made with surgery, more must be done to understand and enhance long-term outcomes. Transplant risks must be balanced against the life-changing benefits of functionally useful new faces for patients unable to regain their natural appearance through other reconstructive methods. Acceptance of lifelong immunosuppressant drug regimens plays a key role in this risk/benefit analysis as these drugs increase susceptibility to life-threatening infections as well as other medical problems – as well as cause serious side effects like cancer, kidney damage and blood disorders.
Face transplant recipients typically stay in hospital for an extended period to monitor and treat side effects. Unfortunately, finding donors can be challenging since many factors must match up: blood type, tissue type, face size, skin tone and biological sex.
Surgery itself can last up to 36 hours, during which surgeons prepare both donor and recipient faces by making incisions and marking areas for graft placement with alcohol-based markers. They then connect facial graft blood vessels under microscope to restore proper blood flow before attaching nerves, muscles, bones, and cartilage onto recipient faces.
Recovery after a face transplant typically lasts four to six months and may continue into their life span. Patients must take immunosuppressants medication in order to suppress their body’s immune system and prevent rejection of their donor face.
Recipients must go through extensive rehabilitation, which often includes physical therapy to restore movement and function as well as psychological and social adaptation. They must also navigate their new appearance which can be challenging for some and their family and friends. Psychiatrists and social workers can assist the recipient and their support system cope with stress associated with the transplant itself, setbacks in recovery or changes in body image.
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