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French hospital performs face, hand transplants at the same time

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

PARIS -- Dozens of doctors working in teams more than 30 hours performed the first simultaneous partial-face and double-hand transplant over the weekend, Paris' Public Hospital authority said Monday.

The authority described the recipient as a 30-year-old burn victim. The man, whose name was not released, was injured in a 2004 accident that left him with scars "preventing any social life," it said.

The statement said the operation, performed Saturday and Sunday at the Henri Mondor hospital in the Paris suburb of Creteil, was the world's sixth partial-face transplant but the first to include hands as well.

In a first, the upper half of the man's face, including the scalp, forehead, nose, ears and upper and lower eyelids, were transplanted. Previous facial transplants have attached the lower part of the face.

The man also received a new set of hands, attached above the wrist, the statement said. The surgery succeeded in reconnecting all the relevant nerves, tendons, arteries and veins.

The organs were harvested from a brain-dead donor with his family's consent.

The transplant patient had been on the waiting list for the organs for one year, the authority said.

A French woman, Isabelle Dinoire, underwent the first partial face transplant in 2005 in Amiens, France. Other recipients include another European patient, a Chinese farmer and a woman operated on late last year in Cleveland, Ohio.

Dinoire was disfigured when her dog chewed her face after she passed out from an overdose of sleeping pills. She lost part of her nose, lips, chin, and parts of her cheeks.

French doctors gave Dinoire, then 38, a new face from a brain-dead donor, as well as bone marrow cells that they hoped would prevent rejection. Dinoire still had two instances of rejection -- one month after her surgery and again a year later.

Other recipients have also have been plagued by rejection -- a problem that worries Dr. Patrick Warnke, a professor of surgery at the University of Kiel in Germany who has expressed skepticism about the procedure.

"I think the hype about face transplants is too much," he said in a phone interview Monday.

He pointed to the risk of long-term use of immunosuppression drugs aimed at preventing rejection, which he said could cause cancer and other life-threatening diseases.

"I'm worried that patients don't understand what it means to be on these drugs for the rest of their lives," he said.

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