Face transplant is a treatment option for some people with severe facial disfigurement. A face transplant replaces all or part of a person’s face with donor tissue from someone who has died.
Face transplant is a complex operation that takes months of planning and multiple surgical teams. The procedure is performed in only a few transplant centers worldwide. Each face transplant candidate is carefully evaluated to help ensure the best possible results in appearance and function.
A face transplant may enhance your life, but it is a high-risk procedure. You and your transplant team can’t predict exactly how you will look and how your immune system will respond to the new face. You will need to take special medications (immunosuppressants) for the rest of your life to reduce the risk of your body rejecting the transplanted face.
Why it’s done
A face transplant is performed to try to improve the quality of life for a person badly disfigured by facial trauma, burns, disease or birth defects. It is intended to enhance both appearance and functional abilities, such as chewing, swallowing, talking and breathing through the nose. Some people seek this surgery to reduce the social isolation they experience while living with severe facial disfigurement.
Face transplant is a challenging procedure. It’s fairly new and very complex. Between 2005 and 2014, approximately 30 people are known to have undergone a face transplant, ranging in age from 20 to 60. At least three have died as a consequence of the infection on rejection.
Complications can result from:
- The surgery
- Your body’s rejection of the transplant tissue
- Side effects of immunosuppressant drugs
This is a complicated, lengthy procedure. You could be in surgery for 10 or more hours. Surgical and post-surgical risks can be life-threatening. They include blood loss, blood clots and infection.
Your body’s immune system may reject the new face and other donor tissues. You could lose part or all of your new face and some function.
You may experience more than one episode of rejection. To control a rejection response, you may need to go to the hospital for an intensive IV dose of anti-rejection drugs. And your doctors may switch the type of anti-rejection drugs you take. Rarely, tissue rejection requires a new transplantation. Rejection that isn’t controlled could cause death.
You’ll need to learn the signs and symptoms of rejection so that you can take timely and appropriate action. They include swelling and a change in the color of your skin.