The Face of Technology

The ability of science and medicine continues to increase at an astounding rate.  The innovations in technology allow doctors to do some amazing things.

Many people might remember the famous scene in the movie Face Off with John Travolta and Nicholas Cage where they transplant an entire face from Travolta to Cage.  With a few years and exponential advancements in technology, we are now able to actually transplant a face.

The technology is not as advanced as the movie and we cannot just make another person look and gesture like another person by transplanting their faces.

Patients who receive a face transplant “will still have the same gestures, the same voice, the way the eyes look, so it is never a situation where the face of the patient will be transformed totally into the donor,” says Dr. Siemionow.   However, doctors can reconstruct disfigured faces creating a more normal functioning face.

A face transplant, like many other transplants, comes from a human donor.  There have only been 17 people in the world who have undergone this experimental surgery.  The most recent person is chimpanzee victim Charla Nash.

CBS News reports that Nash, who received her face transplant at Brigham and Woman’s Hospital in Boston, is still recovering.  “I will now be able to do things I once took for granted.  I will be able to smell.  I will be able to eat normally.  I will no longer be disfigured.  I will have lips and will speak clearly once again.”  Nash went on to give thanks to her doctors and offered a special thanks to the deceased woman who donated her face.

Facial reconstruction surgeon John Girotto, MD, told WebMD that face transplants can fulfill those expectations Nash talks about, “Does it really work? Yes. Do you look like the donor? A little bit, but you still look like yourself.  We are not quite there yet — it is still an experimental thing — but face transplant holds great promise for people with terrible injuries and no other established options.”

The goal of face transplants is to be able to bring back functional facial motion.  “The patient has to be able to smile, to purse the lips, to present happy expressions.  This is very different from any other transplant,” says Maria Siemionow, MD, PhD, director of plastic surgery research at the Cleveland Clinic.

Face transplants are not just an aesthetic lifestyle change but affects your emotional well being just as much as your appearance.

“Getting a new face to replace your disfigured one seems easy, right? But it is not your face that you get,” Girotto affirms. “The vast majority of interactions with people around you involve your face and facial expression. When that is taken away, your interaction with people outside your house is extremely limited. Then when you have a transplant, when tissues of someone else’s face are applied to you, you are truly a new person. You are not back to the person you were before your injury.”

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