Advances in surgery is a breakthrough for face transplant operations

Richard Norris, 37, of Virginia, was injured in a gun accident in 1997. He had lost his lips, nose and mouth in the accident and his face was severely damaged. He had become a recluse with no hope of being a part of the society. However, the physicians at the university of Maryland medical center thought otherwise! In a conference on Tuesday, they spoke about the face transplant that Richard had undergone and described it as being the nations most comprehensive face transplant. Richard received the transplant which included restructuring his entire face from the upper and lower jaw bones, teeth, a part of the tongue and soft tissue from the hairline to the neck. The surgery lasted 36 hours and took place on March 19.

According to Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, associate professor of surgery at Maryland’s School of Medicine and chief of plastic, reconstructive and maxillofacial surgery at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, who conducted the transplant along with 150 doctors, nurses and hospital staff assisting said that the surgery was a full composite maxillo-facial transplant and also includes subcutaneous tissue and muscles and the nerves that innovate or move those muscles which gives the face expressions and sensation and also the bony structure that goes along the face.

Dr. Rodriguez said that when he had first met Norris, his injuries had prevented him from living a normal life and being integrated with the society. He had to undergo extensive psychological testing and will be under supervision to make sure he becomes fully integrated into society. He further added that Norris’s recovery was better than expected and he was already using a mirror to shave, moving his tongue and is on a clear liquid diet. However, additional procedures need to be done in the near future but they would be outpatient ones.
This was the 23rd face transplant performed around the world. The medical center has been researching face transplants for 10 years with the help of grants received from the Office of Naval Research and Department of Defence. Several transplants have been done in the U.S and 3 have been full face transplants at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Dr. Rodriguez said that this transplant was different as it included the donor’s teeth, tongue and soft tissue from the hairline to the clavicle and also the skeletal dimensions were larger. About the donor Dr. Rodriguez said that he had also donated several other organs which helped save the lives of many people.

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