CLEVELAND - In the next few weeks, five men and seven women will secretly visit the Cleveland Clinic to interview for the chance to have a radical operation that’s never been tried anywhere in the world.
They will smile, raise their eyebrows, close their eyes, open their mouths. Dr. Maria Siemionow will study their cheekbones, lips and noses. She will ask what they hope to gain and what they most fear.
Then she will ask, “Are you afraid that you will look like another person?”
Because whoever she chooses will endure the ultimate identity crisis.
Siemionow wants to attempt a face transplant.
This is no extreme TV makeover. It is a medical frontier being explored by a doctor who wants the public to understand what she is trying to do.
It is this: to give people horribly disfigured by burns, accidents or other tragedies a chance at a new life. Today’s best treatments still leave many of them with freakish, scar-tissue masks that don’t look or move like natural skin.
These people already have lost the sense of identity that is linked to the face; the transplant is merely “taking a skin envelope” and slipping their identity inside, Siemionow contends.
Her supporters note her experience, careful planning, the team of experts assembled to help her, and the practice she has done on animals and dozens of cadavers to perfect the technique.
But her critics say the operation is way too risky for something that is not a matter of life or death, as organ transplants are. They paint the frighteningly surreal image of a worst-case scenario: a transplanted face being rejected and sloughing away, leaving the patient worse off than before.
Such qualms recently scuttled face transplant plans in France and England.
Ultimately, it comes to this: a hospital, doctor and patient willing to try it.
The first two are now in place. The third is expected to be shortly.
A combination of two appearances?
The “consent form” says that this surgery is so novel and its risks so unknown that doctors don’t think informed consent is even possible.
Here is what it tells potential patients:
Your face will be removed and replaced with one donated from a cadaver, matched for tissue type, age, sex and skin color. Surgery should last 8 to 10 hours; the hospital stay, 10 to 14 days.
Complications could include infections that turn your new face black and require a second transplant or reconstruction with skin grafts. Drugs to prevent rejection will be needed lifelong, and they raise the risk of kidney damage and cancer.
After the transplant you might feel remorse, disappointment, or grief or guilt toward the donor. The clinic will try to shield your identity, but the press likely will discover it.
The clinic will cover costs for the first patient; nothing about others has been decided.
Another form tells donor families that the person receiving the face will not resemble their dead loved one. The recipient should look similar to how he or she did before the injury because the new skin goes on existing bone and muscle, which give a face its shape.
All of the little things that make up facial expression — mannerisms like winking when telling a joke or blushing at a compliment — are hard-wired into the brain and personality, not embedded in the skin.
Breaking Bioethics: Face-off over transplants
Some research suggests the end result would be a combination of the two appearances.
-- The rest of the article you can read by going to the link. It's 3 pages long, so I didn't want to put it all here and overwhelm you.
How would you feel about donating your face? I feel fine about donating my organs... but my face?