Cleveland Clinic performs first full face transplant on 21-year- - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Cleveland Clinic performs first full face transplant on 21-year-old

Frank Papay, M.D., (center) directs Cleveland Clinic’s third face transplant. (Source: DPSI Medical Photography) Frank Papay, M.D., (center) directs Cleveland Clinic’s third face transplant. (Source: DPSI Medical Photography)
CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) -

A 21-year-old woman became the first person to receive a total face transplant at the Cleveland Clinic. 

The high-risk surgery took place in May and lasted 31 hours.

The patient, who suffered severe facial trauma and other complications from a gunshot wound as a teenager, is also the youngest person in the United States to ever receive a face transplant.

According to doctors the surgery included transplantation of the scalp, the forehead, upper and lower eyelids, eye sockets, nose, upper cheeks, upper jaw and half of lower jaw, upper teeth, lower teeth, partial facial nerves, facial muscles, and skin, effectively replacing 100 percent of the patient's facial tissue.

"To reach this point of recovery has often times been a difficult road to travel, but I'm thankful there's been a road – and Cleveland Clinic has been the vehicle to help drive me along," said the recipient. "I am forever grateful for the care this hospital has given me and continues to offer on my journey of recovery and healing. To call my surgeons, physicians, nurses and caregivers 'world class' would be an understatement. And to my donor and her family – words cannot express the appreciation I have for this incredible gift. With a grateful heart, I say 'thank you' to all who have made this possible for me." 

This surgery will give the patient the capability to speak more clearly, and breathe, chew, and swallow more effectively. She'll also be able to use her face to better express emotions, doctors said. In addition to significantly improved physical function, the patient will also have enhanced physiological, psychological and social function. 

Since the surgery, the patient is recovering well and getting accustomed to her new face. She is walking, talking and will begin eating orally shortly. She will continue to go through extensive rehabilitative therapy, including physical therapy, speech and swallowing therapy and occupational therapy. Doctors continue to monitor her closely for signs of tissue rejection. The patient, like all transplant patients, will remain on immunosuppressant medication for the rest of her life to prevent rejection. 

The Cleveland Clinic became the first hospital in the U.S to perform a face transplant in December 2008.   

Face To Face: Nation's First U.S. Face Transplant Recipient Unveils Herself (PHOTOS)

Cleveland Clinic is one of six U.S. institutions that has conducted face transplants. Fewer than three dozen face transplants have been performed worldwide. 

"I see this surgery as an important result of the investment made by the U.S. government aimed at advancing therapies for some of the nation's most seriously injured patients," said Joachim Kohn, Ph.D. "Considering the tremendous complexity of this surgical procedure, we had to cope with substantial challenges in the administration and management of this program. Dr. Sangya Varma, Ph.D., COO of RCCC and I established a strong collaboration with the administration and clinicians at Cleveland Clinic. This collaboration was effective in shepherding the AFIRM program to a successful conclusion. Looking ahead, the pioneering work done at Cleveland Clinic will contribute to making this important new treatment option available to other patients with devastating facial deformities." 

Much of the transplant success is owed to Lifebanc, Northeast Ohio's nonprofit organization dedicated to saving and healing lives through organ, eye and tissue donation.  

"It was an honor for our team to work collaboratively with Cleveland Clinic on a case that will have such a profound impact on this patient's life," said Gordon Bowen, CEO, Lifebanc. "We are tremendously grateful to the donor and her family, with whom our team has developed a special bond during this process. It was the family's decision to donate that has allowed this extraordinary miracle to occur and we are honored to continue to support them. We are appreciative of all those who commit to give the gift of life and healing. Designating one's wishes can be done easily online in just moments, and the impact of giving more life is infinite."

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