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Pioneering face surgery a success

Breakthrough surgery confirms France as face transplant pioneer

A SURGEON at a hospital on the outskirts of Paris is celebrating a medical first after a successful 19-hour operation to complete what is claimed to be the world’s first full face transplant.

Reconstructive surgery expert Professor Laurent Lantieri led a team of 10 surgeons at the Henri Mondor university hospital in Créteil for the operation on a 35-year-old man with neuro-fibromatosis.

The genetic illness, known colloquially as Elephant Man disease, causes tumours to grow on nerve endings, severely disfiguring the face and making speaking and eating very difficult.

Surgeons in Spain claimed the world’s first full face transplant in April, but the French team say their operation is the most sophisticated to date.

The patient, identified only by his first name, Jérôme, has full control over his eyelids and tear ducts. He is even growing stubble.

The medical breakthrough confirms France’s position as a face surgery pioneer. Jérôme is the 14th person in the world to be given a new face, and the fifth in France.

The world’s first partial transplant was carried out by two surgeons in Amiens in November 2005 on a woman whose face had been mauled by a dog.

This latest operation, which Jérôme has been waiting two years for the all-clear to receive, began with a seven-hour operation to remove the face from a patient who had died just a few hours earlier and whose skin colour and blood type were a suitable match.

Next came a 12-hour procedure to transplant the face on to its new owner, and reconnect the veins and muscles.

The patient will now undergo months of physiotherapy to accustom him to his new face and help him to speak again. He will have to take immuno-suppressant drugs for the rest of his life to avoid the risk of the face being rejected.

Professor Lantieri told Le Parisien: “The first time he looked at himself in the mirror, he stuck both thumbs up. He was waiting for this for two years. He is very happy.

“We are the first to have done a full-face transplant, including eyelids and tear ducts. I am proud because this has been done in France.

“The patient is doing very well, but that is not the final goal for us, a pretty picture. The final goal for us is social reinsertion.”

Jérôme, who featured in a TV documentary on face disfigurement in 2008, said at the time that he wanted a transplant so that he could “melt into the crowd, to be like anyone else”.

Professor Lantieri now wants to concentrate on burns victims, whose condition adds extra complications to the transplant procedure.

120 years of innovation

November 1880: French doctor Alphonse Laveran discovers the parasite responsible for malaria.

1885: Louis Pasteur finds the first vaccine against rabies.

1894 : French bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin discovers the bacillus responsible for the bubonic plague.

1952: First attempt at kidney transplant performed at Paris Necker hospital. Patient dies 21 days later.

1968: Professor Christian Cabrol performs the first European heart transplant in Paris. Patient dies two days later.

January 1983: Pasteur Institute team directed by Professor Luc Montagnier identified the virus suspected of causing HIV.

1998: First hand transplant by Jean-Michel Dubernard in Lyon.

2000: First double hand transplant, by the same surgeon, in Lyon.

November 2005: first partial face transplant by Dr Bernard Devauchelle and Dr Jean-Michel Dubernard in Amiens.

August 2008: Professor Didier Raoult at Marseille university discovers a virophage, a virus capable of infecting other viruses.

October 2008: First artificial heart (pictured below), conceived by Dr Alain Carpentier.

June 2010: First full face transplant by Professor Lantieri on 35-year-old Parisian man.

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