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Doctors Prepare for First Ever Face Transplant

Doctors Prepare for First Ever Face Transplant

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Dr. Kim Mulvihill ReportingDoctors at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio are preparing for a medical first: face transplants. They start screening patients in the next few weeks. Dr. Kim Mulvihill explains how this will work and some of the ethical and medical concerns..

The goal is not to look like someone else, but to give a patient whose face has been permanently disfigured by burns or accidents a new chance at a normal life. The procedure is very similar to those already done with skin grafts. Doctors will take a human face from an organ-donor cadaver and reconnect veins, arteries and nerves.

There are risks involved, the worst being the transplanted face is rejected and starts to deteriorate. That is why the first patient will be thoroughly evaluated.

Dr. Thomas Romo III, Chief of Facial Surgery, Lenox Hill Hospital: Are they going to accept that face as their own? Are they going to feel squeamish about having somebody else's face on their face? Those are psychological frontiers we have never dealt with."

Doctors say the transplant patient will look like a mix of themself and the donor. The new face should set according to the patient's bone structure.

Face transplant studies have been done in animals. The procedure was set to take place in France and England, however those transplants were stopped due to ethical issues and fears that the patients would not respond well to the surgery.

What's very interesting is that people are apparently more willing to accept the risk of a face transplant than other transplants, like a kidney transplant. One similarity, these patients will need to take drugs to suppress their immune system for the rest of their lives, just like if they were receiving another type of organ transplant. And there are risks involved, especially an increased risk for kidney damage and certain cancers.

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