first face transplant
Josh Reynolds/AP
James Maki

America’s Second Face Transplant Recipient Speaks About Procedure

May 22, 2009 07:30 PM
by Denis Cummings
Face transplant recipient James Maki said Thursday that he is pleased with the results of the operation and hopes that others will recognize the benefits of facial transplants.

Maki “Happy” With Results of Face Transplant

James Maki, the second person in the United States to receive a face transplant, appeared publicly for the first time on Thursday, May 21, at a press conference at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Maki, 59, “lost his nose, upper lip, his cheeks, his right lower eyelid, the roof of his mouth, as well as underlying muscle, bone, and nerves” in 2005 after he fell onto the electrified third rail at the Ruggles subway station in Boston, reports The Boston Globe. Dr. Bohdan Pomahac led a team of surgeons who performed a life-saving operation, but they could do little to improve his appearance.

Maki, who was left with a large hole in the center of his face, spent the next couple of years avoiding going out in public. In 2007, he contacted Pomahac about a face transplant after seeing the doctor speaking about it on television. Though Maki did not meet the criteria for a transplant, because he had a history of drug abuse and had not been taking immunosuppressant drugs, Pomahac determined that he was a worthy candidate.

Pomahac performed the 17-hour operation on April 9, using the face of Joseph Helfgot, a man who died after receiving a heart transplant. The operation was successful and Maki is very pleased with the results. According to the Globe, upon seeing his new face for the first time, Maki told Pomahac, “I can't believe you made me look so close to what I used to look like.”

Pomahac said that Maki’s face will improve over the next several months, and as, the Globe writes, “nerve endings grow together, he will increasingly be able to smile, blush, feel pain, and chew solid food.” As with previous recipients of face transplants, he will be required to take immunosuppressant medication for the rest of his life as his body continues to adjust to his new face.

Background: Previous face transplants

Maki’s press conference comes two weeks after America's first face transplant recipient, 46-year-old Connie Culp, revealed herself to the public. Culp, who was shot in the face in 2004, had 80 percent of her face replaced by surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic in a 22-hour operation on Dec. 10, writes The Associated Press. The operation has allowed her to eat solid food, smell and breathe on her own for the first time since the shooting.

Including Maki’s operation, AP reports that there have now been seven face transplants worldwide since 2005, when the first operation was performed by French doctors on Isabelle Dinoire, who had been disfigured in a dog attack.

Although she has physically recovered well, Dinoire is still coping with the psychological aftermath of her surgery. She told The Daily Telegraph, “Before the operation, I expected my new face would look like me but it turned out after the operation that it was half me and half her.”

The second partial face transplant was performed in China on Li Guoxing. He died in July 2008, due apparently to the fact that he stopped taking prescription immune-system drugs in favor of herbal medication, reported Agence France-Presse.

The first full facial transplant was performed in early 2008 by doctors at the Henri-Mondor Hospital in France on Pascal Coler, a man who suffered from neurofibromatosis, a condition similar to that of the “Elephant Man.”

On April 5, four days before Maki’s operation, the world’s first simultaneous face and hand transplant was performed on a French burn victim.

Reference: How a face transplant is performed


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