Wearing the Face of a Stranger

It's hard to imagine living with a severe facial deformity, but what about living your life with someone else's face? Until recently, victims of severe facial trauma or burns have had little recourse beyond often ineffective skin grafts. But this week, doctors have declared two face transplants long-term successes. Caution: The photo after the jump shows a facial wound.Performing a face transplant is a difficult procedure that involves many disciplines. Underlying facial structures can be very complex, so doctors must configure sinuses, reattach blood vessels and nerves, and try to make the result aesthetically pleasing. There are rejection and other immune system issues, similar to other transplant surgeries. On top of all that, there are psychological factors to consider. The patient is literally wearing another person's face. Even when that face replaces one severely disfigured by an injury or a tumor, it can be difficult to adjust.


The two successful transplants took place in 2006 and early 2007, according to British medical journal The Lancet. Doctors waited to judge the success of the surgeries so they would know if the transplants were rejected or if other problems developed. The patients, one a victim of a bear attack and the other a patient with severe facial tumors, report tremendous improvements in their quality of life. You can see a before and after photo of the man who was mauled by a bear above. An entire section of his face was replaced, including bone. So how far away are we from Nicolas Cage and John Travolta swapping identities the way they did in Face/Off? Probably 100 years. But as this medical technology improves, a whole slew of freaky sci-fi scenarios become possible. Witness relocation? The ultimate secret agent? A black market auction for the face of a dead movie star? Or, like me, we'll all just have that old Payolas song stuck in our heads. Images by: The Lancet via BBC. Face transplant 'double success'. [BBC News]

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