“Hey nerd, get a new face!” is something an obnoxious brat might have said to the smartest kid in class 15 years ago. Today, face transplants no longer belong to the realm of science fiction and elementary school bullies. Nope. In fact, in the past 10 years, 28 faces have been removed from the bodies of dead people and put onto living humans.
Believe it or not, nerve endings grow into transplanted facial skin. Believe it or not, a dead person’s nose can be grafted onto a living human’s body, and THEN, used to smell. Smell. The sense of smell, surgically recreated by doctors!
Since the first face transplant performed in 2005, the act of rejuvenating a face has come under criticism for ethical concerns. Unlike organ transplants, victims of facial destruction can live without a face. The risks of undergoing a facial transplant include death, as well as severe illness, and at the very least, it requires that a patient take immune system stabilizing drugs for the remainder of their lives. Many question whether the benefit of having a face and a few additional senses is worth the risk of a complicated and risky procedure.
Aside from ethics, a face transplant is expensive. It costs upwards of $500,000. It requires the effort of 30 - 150 doctors. Once the procedure is complete, patients must consume $38,574 in drugs yearly for the remainder of their lives.
Despite ethical concerns and the exorbitant cost of facial transplants, since 2005, several sensational procedures have been performed. Here are the 10 most noteable.
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10 Isabelle Dinoire - First Partial Face Transplant in History
The first face transplant in global history took place in Amiens, France in 2005. It was performed on 46 year old Isabelle Dinoire.
One evening, Isabelle took a large dosage of sleeping pills. Although some have accused her of attempting to take her own life, she contends that she accidentally overdosed. While she was asleep, her black Labrador when at her face. When she came to, she glanced in the mirror, and to her horror, saw part of her face was missing.
After initially healing from the disaster, Isabelle met with doctors Bernard Devauchelle and Jean-Michel Dubernard. They agreed to attempt to give her a face transplant using the tissue of a woman who died in a nearby city.
Isabelle received new bone marrow cells, facial skin, a nose, and a chin. When the surgery concluded, her body accepted the new tissue for the first three months. By the first year, Isabelle experienced two tissue rejections, and began taking suppressant drugs to prevent her body from rejecting her face.
The procedure was more or less successful, and to this day marks a surgical turning point in history.
9 Oscar - First Full Face Transplant in history
A horrific shooting accident left a Spaniard by the name of Oscar without a face. For five years he struggled, until in 2010, skin began growing over his mouth, making it impossible for him to breathe or eat. His life took a turn when he met Dr. Joan Barrett who offered to perform a full face transplant for Oscar.
On March 20, of 2010, Dr. Barrett began the longest facial surgery in history to date. He set out to repair Oscar’s missing facial muscles, nose, lips, upper jaw, teeth, cheek bones, palate and lacriminal system. The procedure began as Dr. Barrett removed facial tissue from a recently deceased donor’s face, keeping the nerves and blood vessels intact.
Then, Dr. Barrett prepared Oscar’s scull. He placed the new tissue on Oscar’s face, and adjusted his old and new bones. When the procedure was complete, Oscar could breathe and eat again for the first time in years!
8 Connie Culp
One horrific day, Connie Culp was attacked by her very own husband. With the power of a gun, her spouse considerably damaged her face. Shortly after, he took his own life. A fighter, Connie held on and lived through the destruction her husband’s shot caused her face.
Without a nose, cheeks, one eye, and a mouth, Connie could not breathe and had to have a hole created in her esophagus to make the simple act of consuming oxygen possible. Living without a face, Connie struggled but held on until she was given the chance at a facial transplant.
Dr. Maria Siemionow performed a reconstructive facial transplant on Connie in 2008. Dr. Siemionow’s efforts resulted in an impressive result: Connie recovered with a nose, cheeks, and smooth skin.
Within a year of the procedure, Connie regained the ability to smell - smell! A sense she’d long lost was recreated through the (sense)ational efforts of doctor Maria’s team. Not only did Connie regain a sense of smell, but she also gained the ability to eat food again. Full steaks. Apples. Spaghetti Carbonara.
7 Carmen Blandin Tarleton
On a tragic day, Carmen Blandin Tarleton was attacked by her ex husband. This attack wasn’t in the realm of typical domestic abuse, though: Carmen’s ex boyfriend doused her in lye. Miraculously, she survived the attack. However, the majority of her body was desecrated. 80% of her body no longer functioned properly as burns impaired natural processes.
Carmen underwent facial surgery and now has the ability to close her lips and speak clearly. She struggled with her identity as her face is no longer hers, but rather a blend of hers and that of a deceased woman’s. Searching for answers, she sought out the daughter of her face’s donor. The two women maintain a friendship and find solace in each other.
Carmen reports that she has forgiven her ex husband. In her own words, “I learned that ... forgiveness doesn't condone anything he did and it's not about him – it's about forgiving him, it's forgiving myself, it's allowing myself to move forward and not getting stuck in the tragedy of that night.”
6 Stone Grinding Machine Accident
A Polish man experienced more tragedy than most people can endure in a single day, yet he lived through it. Through a twist of bad fortune, his face made contact with the stone grinding machine he was working with. From that moment on, his life changed forever, as he basically lost his face.
At the age of 33, the Polish man underwent a facial transplant. His bones were rebuilt, and his skin was reformed over a new nose. The grueling procedure lasted 27 hours.
5 Richard Norris
In 1997, at the age of 22, handsome young Richard Norris got his hands on a gun at exactly the wrong time. In a state of emotional turmoil, he pulled the trigger. Richard’s parents rushed him to hospital and he survived the gunshot, although his face did not. Ashamed, he became a recluse for 15 years. He moved to a house atop a mountain away from people where he covered the mirrors and lived without speaking a single word.
While perusing the internet one day, Richard’s mother discovered that nearby doctor, Eduardo Rodriguez, specialized in facial transplants. Despite the risks, Richard agreed to undergo a facial transplant.
Dr. Rodriguez performed a miracle and reconstructed Richard’s face so beautifully, that Richard now has the ability to speak, he no longer covers mirrors, and he has regained the confidence to live in society.
4 Charla Nash - Chimpanzee Accident
In 2009, Charla Nash visited her employer’s Connecticut property as she typically did. One day, her life changed forever when her employer’s 200 pound chimpanzee mauled her. Coming close to death, she survived but lost part of her face and hands.
Initially Charla was devastated, as anyone would be. However, as she regained her health and began to recover, she also gained hope. The U.S. military offered to pay for a facial transplant that would cost upwards of $300,000. Although Charla never served in the U.S. armed forces, the military offered to help her recover under the pretense that she could be studied, so that future soldiers with severe facial injuries could possibly undergo facial transplants, too.
Charla accepted the charity and the conditions that she open herself to research. Her facial transplant was a success. However, along with the facial transplant, doctors attempted to give her transplanted hands, too. Her body unfortunately rejected the hands.
Charla won redemption in her survival with her participation in a new scientific discovery, and in a lawsuit against her employer. In the end, Charla walked with $4 million dollars.
3 Dallas Wiens
Dallace Wiens found himself in a tragic electrical fire. His face was desecrated, leaving him with a missing place to see, smell and feed himself. Yes - Dallas was left without a mouth, eyes, or a nose.
For two years he made the most of his circumstance - he ate through a tube and learned to function without eyesight. When he learned that facial transplants were possible, he began considering the merits of giving it a shot.
Dr. Lawrence K. Altman offered to perform a transplant for Dallas at the Brigham & Women’s hospital. Despite the inherent risks, Dallas chose to pursue the opportunity.
After hours of surgery, Dallas’ nose, mouth and skin was restored. Now, his face has a typical oval shape, and he considers himself lucky. In his own words Dallas believes, “There is life after tragedy. My entire life is a miracle.”
2 Mitch Hunter - Car Accident
In an act of bravery, a soldier and Indiana man sacrificed his face while saving the life of a woman in danger.
In 2001, Mitch Hunter was in a car accident. The car ran into a utility pole, and the pole collapsed on several people. Mitch saw that a live wire was lying atop a woman and he ran to her side. He removed the wire, but in so doing, he came into contact with the electrical cable for a solid five minutes - his entire face was gone.
Mitch lived in pain for several years with burned facial skin and missing facial features. Then, he encountered Dr. Bohdan Pomhac, who offered to perform a face transplant for Mitch at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
In the surgery, Dr. Pomhac replaced Mitch’s nose, eyelids, and lips as well as the facial animation muscles and nerves that power them. Years after the surgery, Mitch can speak fully, feel the skin on his face, grow facial hair, and effortlessly move the muscles around his mouth.
1 Patrick Hardison - House Fire
Firefighter Patrick Hardison knew he was signing up for a dangerous job when he decided to fight fires. What he didn’t know, was that he would become the posterchild for facial transplant surgeries, and undergo the most expensive transplant in history, costing between $850,000 to $1,000,000.
In 2001, Patrick Hardison ran into a burning house. While not common fare for typical people, Patrick was doing his job. In the midst of extinguishing the flames in a burning room, the ceiling fell on Patrick’s face.
Over the course of the past 15 years, Patrick underwent over 70 skin graft surgeries to nourish what was left of his face - which wasn't much. A member of Patrick’s church suggested that he consider getting a facial transplant to reduce the number of surgeries he would have to endure throughout his life.
Patrick looked into it, and crossed paths with experienced facial transplant doctor Eduardo Rodriguez. Doctor Rodriguez put together a team of 150 doctors and performed the most extensive transplant surgery on Patrick that has occurred to date.
The doctors used tissue from a 26 year old bike messenger’s face to rebuild Patrick’s scalp, ears and ear canals, cheeks, entire nose, and portions of his cheekbones. The results of the procedure are astonishing for their rapid success. Patrick can now grow hair out of his scalp for the first time in 15 years, his ears are intact and are projected to improve his hearing, and his lips are impressively sculpted. Patrick remains optimistic about the prospects of his recovery.
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