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Medicine

Identical twin gives up half his skin and saves burned brother’s life

Frenchman Franck Dufourmantelle suffered burns to 95 per cent of his body, but was saved with vast skin grafts from genetically identical brother Eric, in a world-first procedure

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 November, 2017, 2:02pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 November, 2017, 10:45pm

A man doomed to die after suffering burns across 95 per cent of his body was saved by skin transplants from his identical twin in a world-first operation, French doctors said Thursday.

Consumed by flames while handling chemicals on the job, 33-year-old Franck Dufourmantelle received life-saving grafts from his brother Eric’s skull, back and thighs. Eric gave up half of his skin in the procedures but it has grown back.

“I had a fresco-like tattoo on my arm,” Franck recalled in a phone interview. “But the only thing left is the word ‘life’,” in English, he said.

Transplants from a genetically identical twin eliminates the risk that the recipient’s body will reject the donated skin or organ.

Dufourmantelle’s accident occurred in September 2016 in northern France.

He underwent about a dozen operations, followed by months of hospitalisation and physical rehabilitation. Doctors had not publicly discussed the case until now.

I remember people shouting ‘Get on the floor! Get on the floor!’, but I just stared running. When you’re on fire, it’s hard to think straight
Franck Dufourmantelle

Dufourmantelle is today living at home with his partner, and is still receiving intensive therapy.

“It doesn’t hurt any more,” he said, noting that he had recently stopped taking painkillers.

He is able to walk again, and is still recovering the use of his hands.

With the left hand, “I can pinch things, like with a claw,” he said. His right hand – less damaged – has healed to the point where he can write with a pen.

Miraculously, his face was mostly spared.

Nearly half of his brother Eric’s skin was removed, and then stretched in a machine so that it would cover a larger area, according to the chief surgeon.

The donor is today not “covered in scars,” Maurice Mimoun, a doctor at the Saint-Louis Hospital in Paris, told Agence France-Presse.

“All one can see is a slight difference in the pigmentation.”

In most burn cases, the skin of a deceased and unrelated donor is grafted onto the victim, even if doctors know that it will be rejected within a couple of weeks.

That is usually enough time for new skin to start growing, or to be harvested from elsewhere on the patient’s body.

Twin-on-twin skin transplants have been done before, but never over such a large area, said Mimoun.

“It is the first time that such a skin graft has been done between twins for 95 per cent of the body,” he said.

The previous record was a case where about 68 per cent of the victim’s body was burned.

Dufourmantelle said his memory of the accident is patchy.

“I remember people shouting ‘Get on the floor! Get on the floor!’, but I just stared running,” he said.

“When you’re on fire, it’s hard to think straight.”