Facing the world: U.S. face transplant recipients progress; French patient dies

August 1, 2009

Seven months postsurgery, Connie Culp, who received a near-total face transplant on Dec. 9 at the Cleveland Clinic, is doing well, according to published accounts.

Key Points

Meanwhile, James Maki, who received the second face transplant performed in the United States, has begun speaking publicly about his experience. However, reports say the French recipient of a groundbreaking face and a double-hand transplant has died.

Ms. Culp's progress suggests that surgeons should consider composite face allotransplantation as an early option for patients whose disfigurements preclude conventional reconstruction, according to her surgeons (Siemionow M, Papay F, Alam D et al. Lancet. 2009 Jul 18;374(9685):203-9. Epub 2009 Jul 14).

Functionally, "The patient's upper lip and lower eyelid movements remain imperfect, but it is too early to expect complete motor recovery," the article states.

Aesthetically, the 45-year-old Ms. Culp probably will need revision surgery to remove extra skin that her doctors transplanted to ensure she had enough tissue, Maria Siemionow, M.D., Ph.D., told HealthDay News.

Dr. Siemionow is leader of the Cleveland transplant team and is the clinic's director of plastic surgery research and head of microsurgery training. Dr. Siemionow's recently published autobiography, Face to Face (2009; Kaplan Publishing), details her personal history.

When Ms. Culp first saw her transplanted face and smiled, Dr. Siemionow writes, "It was worth the long wait and ... all of the effort."

Other recent cases

Meanwhile, in Boston, 59-year-old James Maki, who received a partial face transplant at Brigham and Women's Hospital on April 9, expressed happiness with his surgical results in a Boston Globe interview.

In 2005, he fell onto an electrified subway rail and lost his nose, upper lip, cheeks and the roof of his mouth, along with muscle, nerves and bone, published accounts say.

In France, a 30-year-old burn victim who had received simultaneous upper/middle-face and double-hand transplants died June 8 after suffering a heart attack during follow-up surgery to his April 4 transplant, the Paris Public Hospital Authority announced.