First face transplant cost $350,000

February 2, 2011

The first U.S. face transplant cost about $350,000 - a fee comparable to or less than the cost of traditional reconstructive surgeries for severe facial wounds, CNNhealth.com reports.

Cleveland - The first U.S. face transplant cost about $350,000 - a fee comparable to or less than the cost of traditional reconstructive surgeries for severe facial wounds, CNNhealth.com reports.

According to a report published in the American Journal of Transplantation, the Cleveland Clinic doctors who performed the procedure put the cost of the surgery plus a year of postoperative care at $349,959. The patient, Connie Culp, must take immune-suppressing drugs for the rest of her life, at a cost of $14,000 to $20,000 a year.

The transplant was performed in late 2008. In addition to giving Ms. Culp - victim of a gunshot wound - a new face, the surgery restored her senses of taste and smell.

Before the transplant, Ms. Culp had undergone 23 reconstructive surgeries totaling $353,480, which was covered by her insurance company. Her transplant surgery cost about $4,000 less, but is not covered by insurance because it is considered experimental. The Cleveland Clinic covered the cost of Ms. Culp’s transplant and will provide her postoperative care.

CNNhealth.com quotes surgeon Maria Siemionow, M.D., who led the transplant team, as saying, “There are many patients who benefit from this type of reconstructive complex surgery, like a face transplant. There is the hope that there will be resources which will cover the cost of a face transplant.”

Had Ms. Culp not received the transplant, she would have needed as many as 10 more surgeries, according to Dr. Siemionow.

Ms. Culp’s previous two dozen surgeries did not help her regain function or appearance. She breathed through a tracheotomy tube and fed herself through a gastric tube.

Since the transplant, she can speak, breathe and eat without devices. She has appeared on television and says she is no longer afraid to go out in public, where previously she was subjected to taunting.

In the journal article, Dr. Siemionow and co-authors write, “Although the cost of facial transplantation is considerable, the alleviation of psychological and physiological suffering, exceptional functional recovery and fulfillment of long-lasting hope for social reintegration may be priceless.”