Jérôme Hamon in January became the first person in the world to undergo two face transplants—a surgical feat that experts say mark a significant milestone in the transplantation field.
About the patient
Hamon suffers from neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow along the nerves in the skin, brain, and other parts of the body. Hamon had his first face transplant in 2010, but in 2016 his body showed signs that it was rejecting his new face.
According to the Washington Post's "To Your Health," Hamon had been given antibiotics to fight off a cold, but the medicine interfered with the immunosuppressant he had been given to prevent rejection. The rejection progressed to the point where, in November 2017, doctors had to completely excise his face and put Hamon back on the transplant list.
Hamon stayed at Georges-Pompidou European Hospital in Paris for three months without a face and without the ability to hear, see, or talk, according to CNN. During that time, Laurent Lantieri, the doctor who performed Hamon's second transplant, said that he was inspired by Hamon's "great strength" and "great spirit." Lantieri said Hamon never complained "even when he was in the dark with no face for three months."
A world first
Finally, in January, Hamon's second face transplant took place. Prior to the surgery, Hamon underwent months of blood treatment to reduce the risk of his body rejecting the second transplant. Hamon also is again receiving immunotherapy to reduce the risk of rejection, as well as speech therapy and psychological support.
Eight months later, Hamon has been discharged from the hospital for a week and is able to spend time with his family, according to Lantieri. The donor of Harmon's new face was 22 years old, and Hamon, who's 43, said he's "become 20 years younger." French media have dubbed him "the man with three faces."
Facial transplants are still relatively rare, with only 40 performed since the first procedure was performed in France in 2005, but experts say the Hamon's successful transplant suggests they will become more common.
Lantieri said the second transplant's success shows that "a face is an organ like any organ that can be transplanted and retransplanted."
Frank Papay, a plastic surgeon at Cleveland Clinic, said, "The fact that Professor Lantieri was able to save this patient gives us hope that other patients can have a backup surgery if necessary."
Maria Siemionow, a professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine who was not involved with the case, said that, while some patients have had a second heart or liver transplant, the idea of a second face transplant is something "new for the field."
Bohdan Pomahac, a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, said doctors are still determining how long a face transplant will last, but some estimate it could be 10 to 15 years, which according to "To Your Health" is similar to the lifespan of a kidney transplant. He said, "The more we see what's happening with patients, the more we have to accept that chronic rejection is a reality." He added, "Face transplants will become essentially nonfunctional, distorted, and that may be a good time to consider re-transplanting" (Rosenberg, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 4/17; Howard, CNN, 4/17).
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