With all the media coverage seemingly on the cosmetic and beauty orientated side of plastic surgery, it’s easy to overlook the serious life saving work that is done by plastic and reconstructive surgeons all over the world.
Recently I attended the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons Byron Bay Meeting 2015 where a small group of plastic surgeons from around the globe met to discuss and share, in the true tradition of science, their many and varied professional experiences and advances in plastic and reconstructive surgery techniques.
Presentation topics included advanced reconstruction techniques used following cancer such as for breast reconstruction, nose reconstruction and head and neck reconstruction. But the most interesting presentation for me was “The First Belgian Face Transplant”, which was pioneered by a team of 45 members, headed by Prof. Phillip Blondeel along with Dr Hubert Vermeersch Dr N. Roche and Dr F Stillaert at the University Hospital of Ghent.
The recipient was a 55 year old male severe trauma victim. The initial race to save his life was then followed by a decision that in order to have quality of life, a face transplant would be necessary. Fortunately, a suitable donor was found in the way of a young man who was brain dead with no chance of recovery.
The truly amazing part of this transplant was that it used a new innovation called “3D Bioprinting” a subject that we recently wrote an article on. Involved in this particular operation was Materialise, a company leading the way in this wondrous new technology.
The pre-operation preparation included taking 3D scans of a skull of a family member with similar morphology to the recipient in order to fabricate models which were then used to assist in the re-sculpturing of parts of the man’s face, which included cutting bone and re-attaching blood vessels, nerves and soft tissue suturing. These 3D printouts and models were also used to identify what parts of the donor’s face would need to be harvested and implanted into the recipient. These models literally allowed the surgeons to get under the skin of both the recipient and the donor to get a better feel for exactly what shape and size of the bones needed to be transplanted.
The process used for the face transplant is known as Composite Tissue Allotransplantation (CTA). This procedure, whilst progressive and with huge potential, is still considered a long and complex procedure with many potential complications and long term issues that doctors and scientists are still researching.
Other issues that the recipient has to deal with is the psychological effects of having to accept his new face, however the function and feeling he has regained already has ensured the surgery has been deemed a success. The man has recovered his ability to eat, speak and breathe without too much sensitivity and whilst the psychological issues are ongoing, he is extremely thankful for this second chance.
I loved hearing about this story, and thought it would be great to share with you too – another story highlighting the advancements and possibilities of plastic surgery in our society today.