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The Biomedical Engineering blog is the place for conversation and discussion about topics related to engineering principles of the medical field. Here, you'll find everything from discussions about emerging medical technologies to advances in medical research. The blog's owner, Chelsey H, is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) with a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

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First Face Transplant in the United States a Success!

Posted December 18, 2008 12:00 AM by Sharkles

Dr. Maria Siemionow of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio made history this week by successfully performing the first face transplant in the United States. The 58-year old, native of Poland had been preparing the surgery for over a decade. This is only the fourth successful face transplant, following operations in China (2006) and France (2005 and 2007).

Siemionow studied medicine in Poznan, Poland and trained in Belgium, Spain, and Finland before moving to the United States in 1985. She worked in Louisville until 1995, when she went to work at the Cleveland Clinic. Siemionow has done hundreds – possibly thousands – of surgeries throughout her 30-year medical career. Her experience has taught her that results aren't just dependent on the surgeon, but the patient as well.

These experiences have taught Siemionow to be more critical of the patients that she takes on. For this reason, Siemionow spent three years conducting interviews before she selected the patient for her first face transplant. Her requirement was that the person had to be "psychologically stable but not happy", have family support, and commit to taking anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his or her life.

The identity of the transplant recipient is currently unknown, but is expected to be revealed this week. What is known of the patient is that the person was disfigured by a traumatic injury. The operation team, which included Siemionow and seven other doctors, replaced about 80% of the patients face with portions from a donated, female cadaver.

Improving vs. Extending Life Controversy

Face transplants are seen as an ethical controversy because they improve the quality of life, but don't extend it – as with heart and liver transplants. This type of surgery comes with the risk of deadly complications. Patients must take immune-suppression medication for the rest of their lives to avoid rejection of the new tissue.

Advocates of facial transplants have said that the psychological effects of facial damage – whether from injuries, birth defects, or diseases – can be devastating. They believe that the benefits these surgeries would outweigh the drawbacks, as long as the patient and their families understand the risks involved.

Resources:

http://www.news-medical.net/?id=44341

http://health.usnews.com/articles/health/2008/12/17/health-buzz-first-face-transplant-in-us-and-other-health-news.html

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#1

Re: First Face Transplant in the United States a Success!

12/18/2008 8:45 AM

This is such a controversial topic - one in which I can understand both arguments. I see the patient's side where he or she would like a chance to be seen like everyone else. I can understand other patients' sides, where they would like to see that surgeon devoting more time for life/death matters that could be saved by surgery. While the surgery itself is serious, the future commitment to taking immuno-suppressents should not be overlooked - if you've ever taken them or know someone who has, you know they are no joke.

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#2

Re: First Face Transplant in the United States a Success!

12/18/2008 4:43 PM

Face transplants are seen as an ethical controversy because they improve the quality of life, but don't extend it.

I wonder if these same critics would object to prosthetic legs like these. Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Bleill may not need them to live, but he certainly deserves them!

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Re: First Face Transplant in the United States a Success!

12/18/2008 11:10 PM

Surgery only for beautification falls in this catagory but i agree with you moose how is improving a handicapped persons quality of life an ethical controversy, so fixing someone being born with a split lip is also controversial?

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Re: First Face Transplant in the United States a Success!

12/19/2008 7:11 AM

As in any endeavor, the simple act of being able to do something like this is a technological advancement. The advancement of technology, especially in medicine, is important because the techniques used in this procedure may be applicable to other aspects of medicine.

As the article points out, this woman is from Poland, a foreigner, and my only question is, who is paying for it? If it is the American Taxpayer, I have a problem with it because we have enough difficulty paying for life threatening procedures for Americans and to expend our tax money to Non Americans seems to me, to be a luxury we cannot afford. I sympathize with the woman because I have heard of her plight beyond the infomation in this article, but the fact remains.

As we all contemplate this, doesn't Poland have socialized medicine? Why wasn't it done there?

If our Healtcare System is so bad and Canada's so good (as reported by the socialists in the USA) why wasn't the procedure done in Canada or in the UK?

Contemplate that as you whine for Free Universal Healthcare for the "POOR".

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Re: First Face Transplant in the United States a Success!

12/19/2008 2:15 PM

It is my belief that I would rather live happily for a couple of years than living a full life of being disappointed. If your face is disfigured, you can be the kindest person in the world, but people in this society will look down upon you and pity you for being different. It's just the way it is. I couldn't stand nor get used to people looking at me and pitying me all my life, I would start to pity myself!

So to those who are avoided because they look different, escaping a fire, but forever to live with scars, this face transplant is for them. It may not improve the quantity of life, but wouldn't you rather have the quality of life most people have?

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