Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic are gearing up for a medical first: face transplants. They are actually preparing to take a human face from an organ-donor cadaver and reconnect the veins, arteries and nerves. Of course, there are risks involved, the worst being the transplanted face could be rejected and start to deteriorate. That is why the first patient they select for this procedure will be thoroughly evaluated.
"An ideal patient is someone who is severely disfigured and whom current methods of treatment are not satisfactory. Immunologically, there are certain blood types and matching, and then of course psychologically this is very important," says Dr. John Barker at the University of Louisville.
The procedure itself is similar to what doctors do now with skin grafts, but in this case replacing the whole face is what makes this so groundbreaking. The patient would have to be willing to look like a different person after the surgery.
Already, the experts at the Cleveland Clinic say they have a list of applicants who are interested, and they will begin the screening process in a few weeks. Doctors say the transplant patient will look like a mix of themselves and the donor. The new face should set according to the patient's bone structure. There have been face transplant studies done in animals. People are apparently more willing to take the risk for a face transplant than other kinds of transplants, like kidney transplants.
Face transplants were almost done in European countries, like France and England, but were stopped due to ethical issues and fears that patients will not respond well to the surgery. The patients will be on anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their life. Those drugs carry increase the risk for kidney damage and cancer.