In a medical first, a French surgeon says that he has performed another facial transplant on the same patient – who is doing well and even spent a new weekend in Brittany.
Dr Laurent Lantieri of Georges Pompidou Hospital in Paris first transplanted a new face at Jerome Hamon in 2010 when Hamon was in the mid 30's.
But after getting sick in 2015, Hamon got drugs that disturbed the anti-rejection medicine he took to face transplant.
In November, the tissue began to die in its transplanted face, which led Lantieri to remove it.
It left Hamon without a face, a condition that Lantieri described as "the dead dead." Hamon had no eyelids, no ears, no skin and could not speak or eat. He had limited hearing and could only express himself by turning his head slightly, in addition to writing a little.
"If you have no skin, you have infections," Lantieri told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday. "We were very concerned about the possibility of a new rejection."
In January, when another facial donor to Hamon became available, Lantieri and his team performed another face transplant. But before the second transplant was completed, doctors had to replace the entire blood in their body for a month-long procedure to eliminate some potentially worrying antibodies from previous treatments.
"For a man who went through all this, which is like going through an atomic war, it's fine," said Lantieri. He added that Hamon is now monitored as 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 deliver a few decades.
"I'm 43. The donor was 22. So I've become 20 years younger," shot Hamon on French television Tuesday.
Other doctors applauded the French team's efforts and said that 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 may have a backup if necessary," said Dr. Frank Papay, of Cleveland Clinic, who performed the first face transplant in the United States
He said that the techniques developed by Lantieri and others could help doctors to achieve what he called "the Holy Grail" of transplant medicine: Allows patients to tolerate tissue transfers from others.
Dr. Bohdan Pomahac of Harvard University, who has made face transplants in the United States, said that similar procedures would eventually become more common, with increasing numbers of patients.
"The more we see what happens to (face transplant) patients, the more we must accept that chronic rejection is a reality," said Pomahac. "Face transplants become essentially non-functional, distorted, and it may be a good time to consider gene transplant." He said that it is still unknown how long face transplants may last but guessed they looked like kidneys, which generally last for about 10 to 15 years.
"Maybe some patients will be lucky and their faces will last longer. But it will be more common for some to be replaced," he said, noting that there are still many unknowns about when chronic rejection might occur.
Lantieri said that he and his team would soon publish their results in a medical journal but he hoped cases such as hamon would remain the exception. "The other patients I follow, some have had some changes in their transplant over time, but they're fine," he said. "I hope not to do any future transplants like this one."