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Face Transplant Patient Recovering

French Operation Is a First; Patient's Face Had Been Mauled by Dog

WebMD Health News

Dec. 2, 2005 - Five days after undergoing the world's first partial face transplant, the unnamed patient is reportedly doing well and talking.

French doctors spoke about her at a news conference today.

According to a statement released earlier by the hospitals involved in the operation, the patient is a 38-year-old woman whose face was "severely disfigured" in May when she was attacked by a dog.

About the Patient

The hospitals' statement says that besides cosmetic damage, the woman had serious problems chewing or eating after the attack. The transplant came from a dead woman who was an organ donor, under her family's authorization, states the hospital.

Surgeons transplanted a nose, lips, and chin from the donor. The operation was done on Nov. 27 in Amiens, France.

In face transplants, surgeons attach tissues that include muscles, blood vessels, and nerves.

French Team Responds to Controversy

The procedure in France has attracted worldwide attention. It reportedly wasn't approved by a French government ethics panel. And some experts have questioned why this particular woman was chosen for the operation. Some reports suggest she may have psychological issues. Others say other less risky treatments would likely have been better options.

At the news conference, the patient's doctors reportedly denied that the woman had attempted suicide before the dog attack. Also, a French organ transplant official said other methods could not have been used in this case.

Patient Selection Questioned

WebMD spoke with L. Scott Levin, MD, FACS, about the operation and face transplants. Levin made his commends before the French doctors' press conference.

Levin is a professor of orthopaedic and plastic surgery and chief of the division of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Duke University Medical Center.

"We haven't seen the pictures of the patient before or after, but usually partial injuries to a face can be handled with conventional reconstructive methods," Levin says.

"Reconstructive plastic surgery has a myriad of techniques short of this to reconstruct, so I question the indications of this particular group," he continues.

"I question the motivation of the group," says Levin. "Is this for publicity, or purely for science, or do they want to be the first?"

Despite his misgivings about the operation in France, Levin supports the concept of face transplants. "I definitely believe in doing this, that this is the reconstructive effort of the future," he says.

Beyond the Headlines

WebMD also spoke with Bruce Cunningham, MD, professor of plastic surgery at the University of Minnesota and the president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Cunningham's interview took place before the press conference by the transplant team.

"I would hate to see this effort in France, which is already starting to come under some fire, become the bellwether for this whole new technology," Cunningham says.

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