A man with three faces treated in France
LONDON — In a medical first, a French surgeon says he has performed a second face transplant on the same patient — who is now doing well and even spent a recent weekend in Brittany.
Dr. Laurent Lantieri of the Georges Pompidou hospital in Paris first transplanted a new face onto Jerome Hamon in 2010, when Hamon was in his mid-30s. But after getting ill in 2015, Hamon was given drugs that interfered with the anti-rejection medicines he was taking for his face transplant.
Last November, the tissue in his transplanted face began to die, leading Lantieri to remove it.
That left Hamon without a face, a condition that Lantieri described as "the walking dead." Hamon had no eyelids, no ears, no skin and could not speak or eat. He had limited hearing and could express himself only by turning his head slightly, in addition to writing a little.
"If you have no skin, you have infections," Lantieri told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "We were very concerned about the possibility of a new rejection."
In January, when a second face donor for Hamon became available, Lantieri and his team performed a second face transplant. But before undergoing the second transplant, doctors had to replace all of the blood in his body in a monthlong procedure, to eliminate some potentially worrisome antibodies from previous treatments.
"For a man who went through all this, which is like going through a nuclear war, he's doing fine," Lantieri said. He added that Hamon is now being monitored like any other face transplant patient.
Hamon's first face was donated by a 60-year-old. With his second transplanted face, Hamon said he managed to drop a few decades.
"I'm 43. The donor was 22. So I've become 20 years younger," Hamon joked on French television Tuesday.
Other doctors applauded the French team's efforts and said the techniques could be used to help critically ill patients with few options.
"The fact that Professor Lantieri was able to save this patient gives us hope that other patients can have a backup surgery if necessary," said Dr. Frank Papay, of the Cleveland Clinic. He said the techniques being developed by Lantieri and others could help doctors achieve what he called "the holy grail" of transplant medicine: how to allow patients to tolerate tissue transplants from others.
Dr. Bohdan Pomahac of Harvard University, who has done face transplants in the U.S., said similar procedures would ultimately become more common, with rising numbers of patients.