On May 22, doctors at MD Anderson Cancer Center and Houston Methodist Hospital successfully performed the world’s first ever skull-scalp transplant on a cancer patient.
Jim Boysen, 55, is suffering from a rare form of cancer — called leiomyosarcoma — that causes malignant tumors to grow in his muscle tissue. The vigorous radiation therapy Mr. Boysen had been receiving to help combat the cancer had destroyed part of his skull and scalp. He was also taking immune-suppression medication, which was stopping his body’s ability to repair the damage the radiation was doing. Rather than using an artificial implant or a simple bone graft to repair the damage, doctors felt the best course of action would be to surgically transplant a new scalp and part of a skull, taken from a human donor.
The team doing the skull and scalp transplant — consisting of more than 50 medical staff members — also performed kidney and pancreas transplants to replace Boysen’s failing organs. The surgery took 15 hours to finish and involved very difficult microsurgery to transplant tissues, says Dr. Michael Klebuc, head of the plastic surgery team working on Boysen’s transplants.
“This was a very complex surgery because we had to transplant the tissues utilising microsurgery. Imagine connecting blood vessels 1/16 of an inch under a microscope with tiny stitches about half the diameter of a human hair being done with tools that one would use to make a fine Swiss watch.”
Dr. Jesse Selber, the doctor who headed the operation, added that the patient’s condition was “a truly unique clinical situation that created the opportunity to perform this complex transplant,” and that Boysen’s “patience, courage and enthusiasm for the idea were vital [to the success of the transplant operation].”
Considering the skull and scalp transplant is the first the world has ever seen, Jim was shocked at how successful the operation was.
“It’s kind of shocking, really, how good they got it. I will have way more hair than when I was 21,” he said.
“This has been a long journey, and I am so grateful to all the doctors who performed my transplants,” he said. “I’m amazed at how great I feel and am forever grateful that I have another chance to get back to doing the things I love and be with the people I love.”
On Thursday, June 4, not two weeks after doctors performed the successful skull and scalp transplant on Jim Boysen, he was discharged from the hospital, thankful for being given another lease on life.
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