A Polish man was the recipient of the world’s first emergency face transplant. The reason that it is described as an emergency is that the man’s life was in danger from infection.
In the few face transplant operations that have been performed to date, patients have had to wait several years. In the case of this man, referred to only as Grzegorz, that was not an option. There was very high probability that the residual facial area would become infected, and that would have been life-threatening.
The operation, on May 15, took 27 hours. Grzegorz needed reconstruction of his face, jaws, palate, the bottom of his eye sockets, and a bone transplant.
Dr. Adam Maciejewski, who headed the team of surgeons at the Cancer Center and Institute of Oncology in Gliwice, said, “Usually, the recipients have to wait between one and seven years… for obvious reasons, we had to act much faster, as we were saving this man’s life.” The Institute is the only facility in Poland licensed to perform face transplants.
The Associated Press reports that the medical team were so satisfied with Grzegorz’ s progress that they agreed he could be sent home only 11 weeks after the operation. His doctors said he can breathe, eat, see, speak and taste and that, with care, he could resume an almost normal life.
At a news conference Grzegorz,33, spoke to reporters but with some difficulty. He said, “My speech isn’t clear, but it’s really important that it is there.” He was wearing sunglasses to hide some of the scars and his right eyelid, which was still paralyzed.
He acknowledged that he would have many years of struggle to adapt to his new face, and that he would need permanent medication to prevent rejection. He said, “I know it’s still a long way.”
Grzegorz’ s accident happened when a stone-cutting machine tore off his face and it couldn’t be reattached. His jaw was crushed, and his condition was so bad that doctors said they had no choice other than to give him an immediate face transplant.