First full face transplant carried out in Spain

The World’s first complete face transplant was carried out in Barcelona

The Vall d’Hebron hospital in Barcelona has announced that three weeks ago a team of surgeons successfully carried out the first ever complete face transplant in the world on a young farmer who was accidently shot in the face fives years ago.

Following the loss of their main facial features (jaw, nose and cheeks) in the accident the young patient had been unable to breathe or eat without being connected to tubes. He was also unable to speak and nine operations later there had been no significant improvement.

The head of plastic surgery for the hospital, Joan Pere Barret, said that he was grateful for the patient’s trust in the team in what was ultimately “a life or death operation”. The patient is still being treated in hospital is said to be doing well. He is still unable to eat alone but is expected to begin to eat unaided shortly because the new jaw and facial muscles will enable the patient to chew food unaided.

Until now only a dozen or so partial facial transplants have been carried out in various hospitals around the world. The first was carried out in 2005 in France and the first to be carried out in Spain took place last year in La Fe hospital in Valencia.

The complete face transplant carried out in the Vall d’Hebrón hospital took 24 hours and needed a team of 30 professionals. Firstly the face was extracted from the donor by extracting the jaw bones, the bones of the nose and cheeks and part of the eye cavity as well as all the soft tissue including facial muscles, veins and nerves in order to give mobility to the face once it has been transplanted. The face of the receptor was then prepared by removing the deformed parts and boosting its immune system in order to try and avoid the donor’s body rejecting the transplanted face.

In order to transplant the face four jugular veins needed to be reconnected and adapted to the extracted bones to the face of the receptor, all the muscles were joined to the new face of the receptor together with the blood vessels because as Barret says ‘a new face is useless if it can’t move’. The scar where the new face has been joined to the receptor goes from the hairline around the ears and below the chin – part of the neck has also been transplanted.

The receptor will continue being treated in hospital and will begin by eating liquid foods swallowing test results come back positive. The patient is still connected to an artificial respirator. In order to recover other functions such as speaking, breathing and smiling he will have to undertake rehabilitation exercises.

Barret said that a week after the operation was carried out the patient asked to see himself in a mirror and said that he was satisfied with the result. Family members say that the appearance of the new face is similar to the patient’s face five years ago before the accident occurred.