Wed, Jan 09, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Hospital gets green light for first facial transplant

By Fang Chih-hsien and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Kuo Yur-ren, director of Kaohsiung Medical University Chung-Ho Memorial Hospital’s Department of Surgery, and medical personnel operate on a cadaver in an undated photograph.

Photo courtesy of Kuo Yur-ren

Kaohsiung Medical University Hospital has received the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s approval to conduct the nation’s first-ever facial transplant, Department of Surgery director Kuo Yur-ren (郭耀仁) said.

Kuo made the announcement at the Vascularized Composite Allotransplantation Symposium in Kaohsiung on Wednesday last week.

A facial transplant is a very complicated procedure that must be constantly practiced and imprinted in the surgeon’s mind, Kuo said, adding that there is no room for mistakes.

It involves the removal of a donor’s major nerves, veins and flesh, which are then grafted onto a recipient, he said, adding that the removal of bones would be required for patients who have sustained severe external injuries.

The entire procedure requires at least two teams of surgeons and nurses and takes 15 to 20 hours, he said.

Practice sessions on cadavers proved to be shocking, “as we learned that the utmost care was needed, because any action could unintentionally breach an artery and cause hemorrhaging,” said doctor Lee Yi-lung (李宜龍), a member of Kuo’s team.

If a facial transplant is successful, it would allow the patient to have almost-normal features, said Lee Su-shin (李書欣), another member of the team who is director of the hospital’s Burn Intensive Care Center and an associate professor of surgery.

However, relatives and close friends should have psychological consultations prior to such a procedure, as the surgery would visually transform the patient into a different person, he said.

It could take years for the patient to accept their new appearance and identity, Department of Psychiatry doctor Lin Huang-chi (林皇吉) said.

It is imperative that the patient receive a psychiatric evaluation prior to the surgery and any assessment of the results should err on the side of caution, he added.

Hospital superintendent Hou Ming-feng (侯明鋒) said that he hopes the procedure would help save lives, offer a better quality of life for patients and promote the excellence of the nation’s healthcare system abroad.

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