Man receives first full-face transplant in the U.S.

The face transplants just keep coming. The complex operations have been performed elsewhere in the world – and a partial face transplant was done in this country a few years ago. Now a team of more than 30 physicians, nurses, anesthesiologists and residents at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston performed the first full-face transplant in the United States, the hospital said Monday.

The patient, Dallas Wiens of Texas, had his face seared off from an electrical jolt in 2008. The donation and 15-hour surgery included transplant of “the nose, lips, facial skin, muscles of facial animation and the nerves that power them and provide sensation,” the hospital statement says.

The surgery marks a milestone in full-face transplants though partial ones had been done previously. In 2008, Dr. Maria Siemionow led a plastic surgery team to transplant about 80% of a patient’s face. This Los Angeles Times story describes the preparation for such a complex operation:


“Siemionow and her colleagues at the Cleveland Clinic spent years preparing for the surgery, practicing on animals and doing trial runs on 20 cadavers, said Dr. James Bradley, a professor of plastic surgery at UCLA Medical Center who has seen several presentations by Siemionow at research meetings. About 50 candidate patients have been considered for the procedure.”

Wiens, 25, meanwhile, is on the road to recovery, his doctors have told the media. And while there have been only a handful of such surgeries worldwide, doctors now grapple with drafting guidelines. This American Journal of Transplantation paper published last year says:

“It must be emphasized that face transplantation is still experimental and its therapeutic value remains to be validated. All surgical teams pursuing this endeavor must dedicate an attention to detail and should accept a responsibility to publish their outcomes in a transparent manner in order to contribute to the international field.”