Disfigured worker's face transplant hailed as life-saving milestone

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 May, 2013, 3:14am


Polish doctors carried out the world's first life-saving face transplant, the medical centre said, weeks after the 33-year-old recipient was disfigured by a machine in a workplace accident.

"It is Poland's first face transplant and also the first in the world done to save the patient's life," said Anna Uryga, spokeswoman for the Cancer Centre and Institute of Oncology in the southern city of Gliwice.

The man, a stonemason's worker identified as Grzegorz, was maimed on April 23, when a machine used to cut stone ripped out a large chunk of his face.

An attempt to reattach it failed, though it saved the man's vision and part of his face, and because of the breadth and depth of the lesions "his life was on the line", Uryga said.

With time of the essence, doctors were lucky to find a donor within two weeks, a man in his thirties whose family agreed to the operation.

A team of doctors at the centre - the only one licensed to perform face transplants in Poland - performed the 27-hour facial surgery on May 15.

"He and his family approved the action plan and the associated risks. He was even enthusiastic," head doctor Adam Maciejewski said. Now, a week later, "his condition is still serious because it was a huge operation … (but) he is breathing on his own. Unable to speak, he is communicating via head and hand movements," the doctor said.

"The patient will be able to eat, breathe and see. In eight months' time, he should have full facial motor control."

Polish media published a photo of the man flashing a thumbs-up from his bed.

French doctors carried out the world's first successful face transplant in 2005 on Isabelle Dinoire, a 38-year-old woman who had been mauled by her dog.

Since then, more than 20 other transplants have been carried out worldwide, including in Belgium, Spain, Turkey and the US.