Face transplant in Spain

The first face transplant in Spain took place in La Fe hospital in Valencia between Tuesday afternoon and the early hours of Wednesday morning. According to the Ministry of Health the operation took over 15 hours to carry out and involved a team of 30 doctors and nurses all of which belonged to the public health system except for doctor Pedro Cavadas, who was in charge of the operation, and his small team from the private foundation Pedro Cavadas.

The person who received the transplant was a 43 year old man from the Canary Islands and the donor is said to be a 35 year old man who died in a traffic accident in the province of Valencia. Pedro Cavadas declared that he was satisfied with the results of the operation and said that the next 72 hours would be crucial. He also said that more details would be released in 10 or 12 days time.

Once the donor patient was declared dead the family of the deceased were consulted over the idea of the transplant as is usual in all cases of unexpected death.

However, in this particular case doctors had to make sure that the family of the deceased were really sure of what they were agreeing to.

Time, as in all transplant operations, is crucial to the success of the procedure. For example kidney transplants usually take place a day after the kidney is extracted from the deceased patient, the liver has a time limit of 8 hours, lungs or heart just 2. However in the case of a face transplant the time limit is even tighter given the complex nature of the extraction and the little experience of this type of operation.

The Ministry of Health explained that the rareness of this type of operation accounts for the length of time it took to carry out and the high number of personnel involved. However, the actual transplant only involved 2 doctors, Cavadas, and presumably his colleague from the foundation, Luís Landín, supported by 2 other surgeons, several anaesthetists a dozen or more nurses and other auxiliary staff.

In addition, many other professionals, including technicians for the National Organization for Transplants, also played an essential role in making the operation possible.

Based on previous experience it is expected that it will take at least 6 months before the patient who received the face transplant can begin any type of normal daily activity and that the rehabilitation period will last 2 years. The patient will also need to take medication for the rest his life in order to reduce the probability of his body rejecting the transplant.

According to Miguel Gutiérrez, the vice chairman for the Spanish Society of Psychiatry, the patient will also require psychological treatment in order to ‘restructure their personality and adapt to a new life with a new face’.

The Spanish society for Reparatory Plastic Surgery believes that around 10 or 12 face transplants could be carried out in Spain every year.