Disfigured by gunshot wound, woman undergoes first total face transplant at the Cleveland Clinic

3rd face transplant, Cleveland Clinic, Main Campus, Dr. Frances Papay, Chief Surgeon Cleveland Ohio, Dermatology and Plastic Surgery Institute, DPSI

CLEVELAND-A 21-year-old woman who suffered severe facial trauma and other complications from a gunshot wound as a teen, is recovering after undergoing a total face transplant at the Cleveland Clinic.

Cleveland Clinic surgeons and multiple specialists performed a 31-hour surgery in May.

The surgery included transplantation of the scalp, the forehead, upper and lower eyelids, eye sockets, nose, upper cheeks, upper jaw and half of lower jaw, upper teeth, lower teeth, partial facial nerves, facial muscles, and skin, effectively replacing 100 percent of the patient’s facial tissue.

“To reach this point of recovery has often times been a difficult road to travel, but I’m thankful there’s been a road – and Cleveland Clinic has been the vehicle to help drive me along,” said the recipient. “I am forever grateful for the care this hospital has given me and continues to offer on my journey of recovery and healing. To call my surgeons, physicians, nurses and caregivers ‘world class’ would be an understatement. And to my donor and her family – words cannot express the appreciation I have for this incredible gift. With a grateful heart, I say ‘thank you’ to all who have made this possible for me.”

The name of the patient is not being released to protect her privacy.

“Plastic surgery is about restoring form and function,” said Dr. Papay. “Function comes before form, and prior to the face transplant, this patient had extremely poor function and form. Our job in reconstruction is to weigh the risk versus the benefit of doing face transplantation, and we felt the risk was well worth it to give this patient better function, better social form and, ultimately, a better life. Advances in face transplantation are an example of the Cleveland Clinic’s collaborative innovation. We’re much more capable together than we are individually, and I’m extremely proud of this team for their commitment to making a difference in this patient’s life.”

The Cleveland Clinic said in a release Tuesday,  that the  surgery will give the patient the capability to speak more clearly, and breathe, chew, and swallow more effectively. She’ll also be able to use her face to better express emotions.

“Knowing this patient now has the opportunity to live a functional life because of her face transplant is the greatest reward,” said Dr. Gastman. “With a new nose, lips, palate, eyelids and jaw, 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.”

Since the surgery, the patient is recovering well and getting accustomed to her new face. She is walking, talking and will begin eating soon. She will also continue extensive rehabilitative therapy, while  doctors monitor her closely for signs of tissue rejection.

Back in 2008, The Cleveland Clinic became the first U.S. hospital to perform a face transplant.

“It was an honor for our team to work collaboratively with Cleveland Clinic on a case that will have such a profound impact on this patient’s life,” said Gordon Bowen, CEO, Lifebanc. “We are tremendously grateful to the donor and her family, with whom our team has developed a special bond during this process. It was the family’s decision to donate that has allowed this extraordinary miracle to occur and we are honored to continue to support them. We are appreciative of all those who commit to give the gift of life and healing. Designating one’s wishes can be done easily online in just moments, and the impact of giving more life is infinite.”