Before and After: Both Sides of Face Transplant Surgery

The morning links are coming up in a second, but I wanted to give this it's own post:

The nation's second face transplant recipient went public yesterday.  James Maki, the first American man to receive the procedure, was disfigured four years ago in an electrical accident. The article about the transplant features a gallery with some pretty shocking photos—the accident left Maki without any nose to speak of, just a hole on his face.  It appears that the surgeons at Brigham and Women's Hospital replaced the bottom half of Maki's face with the new donor face.

The donor's wife, Susan Whitman, spoke out at the press conference, saying she was pleased to help someone else and encouraging people to consider becoming organ donors. The Globe ran a separate article—with an accompanying photo—about the donor, Joseph Helgot. (Here's another photo running with his obituary.)

When talking about face transplants, people are always curious whether the recipient "switched faces" with the donor: would the families of the donor feel like they 're seeing the ghost of their deceased loved one?  (I was going to say "looking into the eyes" when it occurred to me that I don't know if eyes are ever a part of face transplants; I'm checking into it and will post as soon as i know**). Obviously there are differences in the bone structure and head shape, but often doctors must recreate a lot of the structure under the skin of the face—do they create one that better matches the contours of the donor face? Maki said he was please that doctors were able to make him look something like he used to, but how much of Helgot is in his face now, as well?

Take a look at both the photos of Helgot and Maki—what do you think?

Also: consider becoming an organ donor. It's an incredibly noble and selfless thing to do.


** Update: Eileen Sheil, the head of communications at the Cleveland Clinic confirmed that in face transplant surgeries the eyes, in fact, are not used. She also noted that the mannerisms and muscle movements—the animation that makes up much of the face's character—are still that of the living recipient.

Join the Discussion